Canada changes blood-donation policy for queer men: Vancouver male health centre says it remains discriminatory

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      While Health Canada announced a reduction in a deferral period for blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM), LGBT advocates have had a mixed reaction to the policy change.

      Canadian Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced today (May 8) that Health Canada approved a request by Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec to reduce the deferral period for blood donation from MSM from one year down to three months.

      “This is a significant step towards eliminating the deferral period entirely,” Petitpas Taylor stated in a news release.

      Canada had a lifetime restriction on MSM blood donors until 2013, which prevented any male who engaged in sexual activity with another man any time after 1977.

      Since that time, Health Canada reduced the deferral period to five years in 2013 and then down to one year in 2016.

      According to Petitpas Taylor, the reductions, based upon scientific evidence, have not resulted in any increases in HIV–positive blood donations.

      While Petitpas Taylor called it a “a major step in breaking down barriers preventing men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood”, a Vancouver-based national queer male health research organization had a mixed reaction to the announcement.

      “We welcome this as a step in the right direction, but for most sexually active gay and bisexual men in Canada, today’s announcement will change little,” Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) research director Nathan Lachowsky stated in a news release. “We don’t ask most Canadians to abstain from intimacy with their partner for three months to donate blood, so why are we asking that of men who have sex with men?”

      When the federal government granted $3 million in research funds to Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec in 2015, CBRC’s Sex Now Survey was among the research projects that were recipients of those funds.

      In 2018, the biobehavioural survey, which is the largest MSM survey in Canada, aimed to explore the possibility of a blood-donation policy more inclusive of MSM.

      Three-quarters of survey respondents said they would be willing to donate blood if eligible.  

      However, Lachowsky stated that the policy deferral period continues to stigmatize MSM in contrast to straight donors.

      “We feel this new three-month deferral is still missing the mark,” Lachowsky explained. “Canadians deserve a policy that does not contribute to further stigma, but considers specific behaviours associated with HIV transmission based in modern science.”

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.