Health Canada reduces blood donation wait period for men who have sex with men to one year

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      Health Canada announced today (June 20) that Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec are authorized to reduce the deferral period for blood donations for men who have sex with men (MSM) from five years to one year.

      The change is a result of proposals from Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec based on scientific data.

      Men who have not had sex with men over the past year are now eligible to donate blood in Canada.

      Health Canada and blood operators will monitor donations from new donors to see if there is an increase in HIV or other infection rates.

      In 2013, Health Canada lifted a lifetime ban on male blood donors who have had sex with men, reducing it to a deferral period of five years.

      Advocates and activists have called the restrictions on MSM discriminatory.

      The announcement arrives amid an increase queer men seeking to donate blood after the Orlando gay nightclub shooting but were barred from doing so due to donation policies.

      Canada has not had a single HIV infection from a blood transfusion in 25 years.

      Canada's Minister of Health Jane Philpott issued the following statement:

      Today, Canada took a step forward in reducing barriers that prevent men who have sex with men from donating blood.

      Health Canada approved a proposal from Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, submitted earlier this year, requesting the ability to revise current policies with regard to blood donation by men who have sex with men (MSM).

      Since 2013, Canada has had a 5-year deferral period for MSM donors—meaning they were unable to donate blood if they have had sexual relationships with men during the past five years. The two blood agencies have requested, and Health Canada has approved, a request to reduce this period to one year.

      This change brings Canada in line with many other countries—including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, and France. The evidence that we have seen allows us to move in this direction with the utmost confidence that the safety of Canada's blood system will be maintained.

      I recognize that this 4-year reduction in the deferral period is not a radical change, and will not change the circumstances for many MSM donors who are currently prevented from donating blood. That being said, I would rather see Canada take a step in the right direction than stand still.

      To that end, I am pleased that Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec are reviewing, and will actively consider, changes that ensure blood donation policies are gender-neutral and behaviour-based. I am also pleased that they will continue to review the available research and data to ensure their policies remain evidence-based.

      With these objectives in mind, Health Canada will provide a $3M contribution to Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec to fund behavioural research to ensure non-discriminatory practices; organize an international seminar with health leaders from around the world to discuss blood donor policy; and encourage further development of technologies (such as pathogen reduction technologies) by working with industry and academia.

      In addition, I am hopeful that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health will decide to undertake an immediate study of the restrictions on MSM blood donation, as proposed by MP Len Webber, to determine how restrictions can be reduced while maintaining a safe blood supply.

      I am confident that any remaining barriers to MSM blood donation will be removed—it is only a question of when.