06/28/2017 14:39 EDT | Updated 06/30/2017 15:43 EDT

The Many Ways Canadian Blood Services Makes It Difficult To Give Blood

There are a lot of willing citizens out there.

Earlier this month, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) revealed an "urgent" need for blood donations from Canadians as the summer approaches.

And while it's hard to argue with carrying out a relatively painless task that can literally save someone's life, plenty of Canadians who'd like to give blood have been coming up against hurdles to the process.

Not So Local

After publishing our story, lots of readers noted the difficulties they faced finding blood clinics in smaller towns throughout the country, after the local one had been shut down.

HuffPost Canada reached out to CBS to ask if any additional clinics have been put in place during this time of urgent need, but the organization did not indicate that this was the case.

"Decisions involving clinic locations are difficult to make, and they are based on research and analysis over several years," they responded in an email. "Consideration is given to various factors including operational costs, the migration of Canadians to urban centres, and the location of other clinics and testing and production sites."

But it's not just distance that's keeping people from donating.

Gay Blood Ban

For many years, gay men have been fighting the ban on behaviour-based screening for blood donations. For men who have sex with men, the deferral period dropped from five years to one year in 2016, but many say that's still discriminatory, and suggest replacing the widespread rule with screenings for specific infections.

"New research must be done to generate the evidence required for low-risk groups to be identified and included as eligible donors without introducing more risk to blood safety," CBS told HuffPost Canada.

As well, last year the organization established a policy for trans women that used similar guidelines, requiring them to wait one year after gender confirming surgery to donate blood, reported the CBC.

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If they had not had the surgery, CBS would identify them as a male having sex with a male, Dr. Mindy Goldman, the organization's medical director, told the network.

They also tell HuffPost that a "focused effort towards evidence-based change is underway," with grants being offered to those who can come up with an alternative screening approach that meets their requirements.

Women's Waiting Period

Another obstacle was put forth this year in a similarly wide-reaching way when women were told they must wait 12 weeks or 84 days between donations in order to ensure there was enough iron in the blood.

CBS notes this is meant to prevent iron deficiency in donors, as women need more iron than men due to menstruation (among other health reasons). These policies were rolled out following a random study of ferritin levels in Canadian donors, and men were slightly affected as well.

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"The minimum allowable hemoglobin level for male donors increased from 125 grams per litre to 130 grams per litre," the organization notes.

But much like the ban on blood that comes from men who have had sexual contact with other men, to many Canadians, this feels like the kind of decision that can be made on a case-by-case basis.

As a February article noted, CBS was already relying on a small pool of donors in Canada, about 3.4 per cent of those who are eligible. And the iron-level changes meant that approximately 35,000 donations would be affected.

CBS was already relying on a small pool of donors in Canada, about 3.4 per cent of those who are eligible. And the iron-level changes meant that approximately 35,000 donations would be affected.

A press release last week stated that the national inventory now stands at two days' supply of O-negative (the universal donor) blood, when a five-to-eight-day supply is needed to keep up with hospitals' demand.

Based On Place

Another surprising category of people who get turned away at blood donor clinics are those who have lived in specific places for a certain period of time. Canadian Blood Services notes, for example, that people who have lived in Togo or Cameroon since 1977 are deferred for one year from the date of departure from the affected country.

As well, people who spent significant time in certain European countries from 1980 to 2007 will get rejected. As it says on their site:


There are also plenty of other health conditions that might prevent someone from donating. Make sure to check the handy "ABCs of Eligibility" on CBS' site to make sure you're able to donate.

Here's hoping CBS, along with Canadians, can figure out a way to let the people who want to give blood do so.