This article was published on May 24th, 2013
Earlier this week Canadian Blood Services announced they would be lifting the ban on gay men donating blood. It’s been a contentious issue in Canada, especially over the past decade as LGBT rights have progressed. While the 30 year old ban hasn’t been completely lifted, men who sleep with men (MSM), will be able to donate blood if they have been abstinent for at least five years will be allowed to donate blood.
Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec received the approval on Wednesday from Health Canada. Health Canada consulted stakeholders for several years to develop the new policy. The primary concern was to keep harmful pathogens out of the blood supply.
The ban again MSM donating blood was instituted in the 1980’s when the Red Cross, who at the time was responsible for the supply of blood in Canada, recognized that HIV/AIDS was on the rise in Canada, and the untreatable disease could be contracted through blood transfusions.
After a public inquiry was held, the Red Cross was found guilty for not implementing adequate screening and testing procedures after hundreds of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C. The incident with the Red Cross cast a dark shadow over the organization for many years until they were replaced by the Canadian Blood Services, who is now responsible for the collection, testing, and management of blood in Canada. Given the history in Canada on blood safety, the changes have been a long and arduous process.
“So the message to them today is simply to bear with us,” said Dana Devine, vice president of medical, scientific, and research affairs at the Canadian Blood Services. “We are working toward attempting to make the opportunity for additional people to donate blood. We just aren’t quite there yet for that group of people.”
The new policy will allow men who have been raped by other men and men who have experimental sexual encounters with other men more than five years ago to now donate blood. The policy does not allow for men who are in long-term, monogamous relationships to be able to donate blood.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction regarding non-discrimination and stigmatization of gay men,” said Dr. Mark Wainberg, HIV researcher at McGill University and former president of the International AIDS society.
While this is a giant step forward in Canada, other countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom allow men who have not slept with other men for at least one year, and in South Africa it’s as short as six months. The United States still has a full lifetime ban, which was at the centre of attention at the 2012 LA Pride Festival.