Canada has lifted restrictions prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood and blood products after years of lobbying from LGBTQ advocacy groups.
Health Canada, the government department responsible for national health policy, announced last Thursday that it is eliminating its previous policy, which barred men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood unless they have been celibate for more than three months.
The change marks the fourth such change in eligibility criteria for Canadian blood donors in the past decade.
The government first imposed an across-the-board ban prohibiting men who have sex with men from donating blood in 1977, with prohibitions on donating blood products like plasma imposed in 1992.
In 2013, the lifetime ban was reduced to a five-year deferral period for MSM, then to a 1-year deferral period in 2016, and to a three-month deferral period in 2019, reports United Press International.
Going forward, Canadian Blood Service, a nonprofit charitable organization that provides blood and blood products to Canadian health care systems, will introduce give all donors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, a questionnaire to fill out to determine whether they have engaged in sexual behaviors that place them at higher risk of blood-borne diseases, which determine whether they should be deferred from donating for an additional amount of time.
In a statement authorizing the country’s chief two blood operators — Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec — to change the eligibility criteria for donors, Health Canada called the development “a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system nationwide, and builds on progress in scientific evidence made in recent years.”
Starting on Sept. 30, male donors will no longer be asked the gender of their previous sexual partners. Instead, potential donors will be asked if they’ve had new or multiple sexual partners in the past three months.
If they respond affirmatively, they’ll be asked if they’ve had anal sex — which has higher chance of HIV/STI transmission compared to oral or vaginal sex — with any of their partners. If the answer is yes, they will be deferred for three months.
“Asking about anal sex in the context of new or multiple recent partners will allow us to more precisely and reliably identify those who may have increased chance of a newly acquired transfusion-transmissible infection,” Blood Canada Services said in a statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had campaigned in 2015 on ending what critics said amounted to a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men, praised the shift from an identity-based screening process to a behavioral-based one as a development that was “a long time coming.”
After taking office, his Liberal government spent $3.9 million producing studies of how a move to a behavioral-based risk screening would work while still ensuring the safety of the blood supply.
“This is good news for all Canadians,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Our blood supply will continue to be safe and we’re doing away with a discriminatory blanket ban.”
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