Volunteer donors are the backbone of the blood system in Canada. Our research explores the potential impact of changes to donor criteria and donor screening policies, both on blood safety and on donor safety and impact on the blood supply.
Why is this important?
A better understanding of our donor base is vital to protecting donors’ health and safety and ensuring a safe and adequate blood supply. Ideally, donor criteria should be evidence based and evolve with new scientific findings.
While ensuring a sufficient and safe blood supply is important, this should not be achieved at the detriment of donor health. Together with Dr. Sheila O’Brien, head of our Epidemiology group, we are investigating iron deficiency in Canadian donors, a major focus of investigation by blood operators worldwide. We have found that many of our regular donors have low or absent iron stores, and will be changing our criteria for blood donation based on our findings. We are also evaluating the feasibility of performing iron (ferritin) testing on a subset of donors at particularly high risk for iron deficiency.
Together with our Epidemiology group, we perform large, anonymous donor surveys to provide information on donor motivation, tolerance of donation, and compliance with criteria. We have used this survey to explore compliance with changes in donor criteria, such as the recent change from an indefinite to a 5 year deferral for men who have sex with men. We also collaborate with other international blood operators to ensure our policies and procedures are in line with industry best practices.