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Vancouver clinic encourages gay men to donate blood

By Stefania Seccia

Chad Walters initiated the Rainbow Donor Clinic and Open House event on Feb. 4 to show Health Canada that sexually active gay men are ready and able to donate blood.
(Photo submitted)

Chad Walters initiated the Rainbow Donor Clinic and Open House event on Feb. 4 to show Health Canada that sexually active gay men are ready and able to donate blood. (Photo submitted)

When Chad Walters was 18 years old, he was asked to leave a blood donation clinic simply because he was a sexually active gay man.

The Vancouver resident decided in that moment to research Health Canada’s deferral of blood donations from homosexual males that started in the 1980s when the tainted blood scandal of HIV and Hepatitis C got into the national blood supply.

Up until 2013, any gay man who had sex with another man since 1977 was disallowed from donating blood. Now, a gay man is able to donate blood as long as he’s abstained from sex with another man in the last five years.

“The shift from lifetime to five years, in my belief, is one step,” Walters said. “It isn’t a step I am particularly fond of, but at least it is a step.”

Walters’ research led him to finding netCAD, a Canadian Blood Services research facility at the University of B.C. campus, which accepts blood from all those who are otherwise deferred. The blood is used for research to advance transfusion and transplantation medicine.

A UBC social work student, Walters was working on a policy assignment that inspired him to reach out to netCAD to launch the Rainbow Donor Clinic & Open House on Feb. 4 at its facility.

“It’s time to talk about what we can do, and no longer dwell on what we can’t,” he said.

The purpose of the clinic is to spread the message that sexually active gay men are not only ready and willing to donate blood, but they have the opportunity to donate blood for research.

It’s also about encouraging a group of people who have felt discriminated against to grab the opportunity to learn about other ways to save lives and further develop scientific research, Walters said.

“It’s important to show Health Canada and Canadian Blood Services that this is a group of people willing to help,” he said.

Dr. Tanya Petraszko, West Canadian Blood Services (CBS) associate medical director, said she hopes the rainbow event is the beginning of a dialogue that may lead to more loosening of the Health Canada policy.

“We have to show (Health Canada) two things,” she said. “One, this community wants to donate, and they’re keen supporters of the blood supply. And two, there’s no change to the safety of the blood supply.”

That kind of research could provide the next step in further relaxing or eliminating the controversial federal policy.

For more information, visit blood.ca.

 

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