Canada drops blood donation deferral period for gay men to three months


blood donation stock photo
Photo: Adobe Stock

Canada will reduce its blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men to three months.

From June 3, gay and bisexual Canadian men will only need to abstain from having sex with another man for three months – instead of 12 – in order to be eligible to donate blood, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said.

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“Today, we’re taking a major step towards a fair, evidence-based blood-donation system by reducing the deferral period to three months and moving towards behavioural-based screening,” Taylor said.

A lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood was introduced in Canada in 1992 but was lifted in 2013 when a deferral period requiring men who have sex with men to abstain from sex for five years was introduced. That deferral period was reduced to 12 months in 2016.

“We empathize with individuals who, for many different reasons, cannot give blood,” Canadian Blood Services CEO Dr Graham Sher said.

“This further reduction to the waiting period represents the next available step forward in updating our blood donation criteria.

“The work to evolve the blood donation eligibility criteria doesn’t end here. The research required to generate further evidence-based changes is ongoing.”

The Canadian Blood Service says the deferral period is in place because men who have sex with men are a high-risk group as they account for the largest proportion of new HIV infections reported in Canada, CBC News reported.

But LGBTIQ advocates in the country say the policy is discriminatory and blood donor screening processes should instead be based on behaviour of all groups.

Australian experts call for changes to ‘outdated’ blood donation policies

In Australia, gay or bisexual men can currently only donate blood if they have not had male-to-male sex within the last 12 months, a deferral period that LGBTIQ advocates say is outdated.

Experts from the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) have said the 12 month deferral period for sexually active gay men is “unreasonable” and can be safely reduced.

“Blood is tested for all of the relevant viruses — both the presence of the virus as well as the presence of antibodies,” AFAO’s then president Bridget Haire said last October.

“Even if you look at the test that takes the longest period of time to conduct, it’s one month. If you double it as a kind of buffer for peace of mind, that’s two months.

“The question is, why aren’t we lowering the 12-month exclusion to two months? That is very reasonable. It is safe and perfectly scientifically relevant.”

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The Australian Red Cross Blood Service states on its website, “Scientific modelling shows that overall, even men in a declared exclusive gay relationship have, on average, a 50 times greater risk of HIV infection, compared to heterosexual Australians with a new sexual partner.

“The Blood Service is not discriminating against anyone based on their sexuality; rather the policies are based on assessment of risk.”

In 2017, an expert committee was established to look at the issue and handed its report to the Blood Service last November, after which the Blood Service said a submission would be made to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“The Blood Service would like to make it easier for all Australians to give blood, while ensuring Australia’s blood and blood products are as safe as possible for blood recipients,” the Service said in November.

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