U.K. relaxes rules around gay men donating blood as Canada reviews policy

Click to play video 'U.K. relaxes rules around gay men donating blood: should Canada follow?' U.K. relaxes rules around gay men donating blood: should Canada follow?
WATCH: Fears over infections led to an outright ban on gay male blood donors at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and while that ban has been replaced by restrictions, some researchers believe those restrictions are no longer necessary. Heather Yourex-West explains.

Beginning later this year, restrictions around gay men donating blood will be relaxed in Scotland and England.

Right now, gay men can only donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for 12 months, but that period of time will soon be reduced to three months.

“The United Kingdom has done a large amount of research with over 65,000 blood donors,” said Nathan Lachowsky, a researcher with the School of Public Health at the University of Victoria. “And there is also new modelling and other research that has informed what we know about blood-borne infections.”

READ MORE: Canada’s limitations on gay blood donations ridiculous: HIV researchers 

In Canada, restrictions involving gay men and blood donation have been slowly easing.

A total ban was replaced with a requirement that gay men abstain from sex for five years before donating blood; that waiting period was reduced to one year in August 2016. That still may be much longer than warranted, according to Lachowsky.

Story continues below advertisement

“The real risk question is about this period between when someone might have acquired an infection and when our tests can pick that up. The window period for HIV testing is approximately nine days, but can be as early as four to five days after exposure.”

Canadian Blood Services says it’s currently looking at ways to change its policies.

“We are working with the LGBTQ community, patient groups and other stakeholders to determine how to gather the scientific evidence required to determine whether it is possible to reliably identify low-risk, sexually active men who have sex with men,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Global News.

READ MORE: Blood donation ban for gay men dropped to 1 year from 5

“This research is crucial to moving from a time-based deferral (determined by when a donor last had sex with a man) to an alternative screening approach.

“Our aim is to identify a long-term policy solution that prioritizes patient safety while minimizing the societal impact on certain groups of people.”

A complete list of Canadian Blood Services blood donation eligibility requirements is available on its website.