Blood donation ban lifted

The Cayman Islands government has lifted a long-standing ban on blood donations from former residents of countries affected by mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. 

Previously, those who lived in the UK between 1980 and 2001 for at least three months or received blood transfusions in the UK since 1980 were prohibited from donating blood in Cayman.

As of 22 Sept., this ban has been revoked. Similar bans have been lifted in other countries, including Australia and the United States in 2022. The decision to change the policy was based on a risk assessment that considered the potential for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) transmission, which can occur when consuming beef from cows with BSE.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nick Gent stated that the ban was originally implemented to protect public health but highlighted that there have been no new cases of vCJD in the UK among individuals born after 1989 when strict dietary measures were introduced. A clinical sub-group of the Health Services Authority recommended the ban’s removal based on the available evidence.

Both Health City Cayman Islands and Doctor’s Hospital supported lifting the ban, as it increases the local blood donor pool, reducing the dependence on imported blood and strengthening local resilience in emergencies.

The Cayman Islands Blood Bank, currently in need of type O-negative donors, welcomed this policy change. The revised donor eligibility test no longer includes the previous restrictions related to UK residence.

The expanded donor pool is expected to address the growing demand for blood transfusions in Cayman, where over 500 residents require transfusions annually for various medical conditions.

Mad cow disease was first identified in the UK in 1985, leading to the introduction of the blood-donation ban in 1999. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a human version, was linked to infected cattle products. While the UK had cases of vCJD transmitted through blood transfusions, no such cases have occurred since 2006.

Donations can be made at the Cayman Islands Blood Bank, and basic eligibility criteria apply, including age, weight, and health status. The blood bank encourages new donors to help meet the increased demand for blood products.