Donation policies outside the United States
Whether a change in blood donation deferral policies for MSM would be a shortened window or a move toward a behavioral questionnaire is currently not known. Globally, a variety of practices are used for blood screening, said Mindy Goldman, MD, medical director of Canadian Blood Services, who reviewed international perspectives on blood donation for MSM.
“There’s no general consensus on donation deferrals internationally,” she said. Factors influencing policy can include epidemiology, risk analysis, modeling, and history of response to threats in the past.
However, “there’s basically a couple of main approaches” to handling deferrals for MSM, Dr. Goldman said. One is time-based deferral – the strategy used in the United States, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia.
Japan and the U.K. have recently moved to 3-month deferral periods, a figure arrived at by doubling the window period for nucleic acid testing for HIV, roughly, Dr. Goldman said. Early data from the U.K. experience has not shown an increase in HIV rates among donors, or an increase in NAT-only positive donors, she said. An application to move from a 12-month to a 3-month deferral period is pending in Canada.
A strong advantage of time-based deferral as a risk management strategy, Dr. Goldman said, is standardization. “For us, standardization is close to godliness.”
However, she added, “another major limitation is that you’re still deferring all sexually active MSM, including those who are in a stable monogamous relationship from donating. From a justice perspective for the lowest risk population of MSM – they are still being deferred using this type of approach.”
Some nations, such as Spain and Italy, use individual risk assessment via physician-led interviews. These approaches are often not standardized. “There’s no national uniform questionnaire, so there’s less standardization, and more variability between blood centers,” Dr. Goldman said. “So you wind up trying to compare apples with oranges.”
This means the results are harder to evaluate on a national level. However, there appears to be higher residual risk, with HIV rates among first-time donors approaching those of the general population, Dr. Goldman said.
Another strategy, used in France, is a test-retest model, where blood from first-time MSM that initially tests negative for HIV is held until the individual returns for re-testing or an additional donation, with a second negative test. This approach increases operational complexity and cost, noted Dr. Goldman, and because of the short shelf life of platelets, it’s not practical for this blood component.
In general questioning and discussion after this and other background presentations, the committee could agree on one point: this isn’t an easy question.
“I’m increasingly struck by how difficult this problem is,” said committee member Roger Lewis, MD, PhD, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and chair of the department of emergency medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Regarding just the problem of completing the pilot study, Dr. Lewis commented, “It sounds like it’s going to be impossible to get the data that directly answers the questions.”
Peter Marx, MD, PhD, who directs the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), which oversees blood products safety, joined the discussion to acknowledge the difficulty, but underscore the social importance of a careful examination of the current MSM donation policy.
“We understand the issues here…. With all due respect to our European colleagues, there’s not enough data. That’s the point of this study; we also know that the U.S. has a very different epidemiology of HIV than the U.K. and a lot of other places,” Dr. Marx said. “The pilot study is a way to get some data where we might be able to get away from a time-based deferral. The LGBT community finds any time-based deferral discriminatory.”