Canadian Blood Services applies to end ban on donations from gay men

Dec 15 2021, 8:53 pm

Canadian Blood Services formally asked Health Canada on Wednesday to adopt a behaviour-based screening model for all donors instead of a blanket ban on donations from gay and bisexual men.

The blood donations collector proposed asking all donors if they’ve engaged in anal sex recently, moving away from the current ban on donations from men who’ve had sex with men in the last three months.

“Canadian Blood Services’ goal is to stop asking men if they’ve had sex with another man and instead focus on high-risk sexual behaviour among all donors,” the agency said in a statement.

Right now, men can only give blood if it’s been three months since their last sexual contact with another man. Men who’ve had sex with other men used to be banned for life from donating blood, but in 2013 Health Canada allowed that to change to a five-year ban since last sexual contact.

That waiting period was reduced to one year in 2016, and to three months in 2019, according to a Health Canada statement.

“Health Canada is steadfast in its commitment to protecting the safety of Canada’s blood system and the recipients of donor blood and plasma,” it said. “We are also committed to supporting blood and plasma donation policies in Canada that are non-discriminatory and scientifically based.”

According to Canadian Blood Service’s website, the ban on donations from gay men was introduced in 1977 to protect the blood supply from potential contamination with HIV.

The virus is transmitted sexually or when one person’s infected blood enters another person’s bloodstream (such as through a blood transfusion or open wound). HIV is more easily transmitted through anal sex than vaginal sex.

HIV can infect anyone, but it became stigmatized after devastating the gay community in the 1980s before modern treatments were available. Anti-LGBTQ stigma and discrimination from that era still lingers to this day.

If left untreated, HIV can progress to full-blown AIDS, which is deadly. There are now treatments available to suppress viral load in the body so that patients can live comfortably for decades without the condition ever progressing to AIDS.

Being on antiretrovirals reduces the risk of transmission to one’s sexual partners, and there is also a treatment option called PrEP available for people having sex with HIV-positive partners to prevent them from catching the virus.

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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