Gay men who have abstained from sex with other men for one year can now donate blood, down from a five-year abstinence period, Health Minister Jane Philpott said Monday.
“After a rigorous review of the latest scientific data, Health Canada has issued authorizations for Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec to reduce the deferral period for blood donation for men who have sex with men from five years to one year,” said a Health Canada statement.
The change is based on scientific data the showed there would be no reduction in safety for blood donation recipients, the statement said.
“As an extra precaution, Health Canada and the blood operators will monitor donations from new donors to see if there is an increase in HIV or other infection rates,” said Health Canada’s statement.
The ban on gay men donating blood has long centred around fears of HIV transmission via blood transfusion; the policy was first put in place as men who have sex with men (MSM) “were noted to be a particularly high-risk group,” the Canadian Blood Services states.
There may be further changes to Canada’s policy in the future, Philpott said.
“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” said Philpott.”There is incredible desire and certainly a commitment on the part of our government to work towards further decreasing that donor deferral period.”
On the campaign trail last fall the Liberals pledged to drop the ban altogether.
The party said the five-year policy “ignores scientific evidence and must end,” and pledged to work “to end this stigmatizing door-screening policy and adopt one that is not discriminatory and based on science.”
New Democrat MP Randall Garrison said in a tweet that the Liberals had broken their promise, choosing to “instead stick with prejudice over science.”
Philpott said there is more work to be done to get to that point, but the intention is there.
“The desire is to be able to have those deferrals based on behaviour as opposed to sexual orientation,” Philpott said.
Investments are being made into research on behaviour based deferral programs and Canada will host an international seminar in the fall to examine donor policies from around the globe, the minister said.
Gay men have been restricted from donating blood in Canada for decades; until 2013 they could not donate at all. The five-year deferral period has been in place for the last three years.
The United States just dropped their lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in December, and adopted a one-year ban. The changes leave the U.S. and Canada with policies matching those in other countries such as Australia, the U.K. and Japan.
In Canada there has not been an incidence of HIV transmission from blood transfusion in 25 years, Health Canada states.