TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada said on Thursday it is lifting a ban on blood donations from sexually active men who have sex with men, first imposed decades ago, as part of an effort to create a “more inclusive” system.
The federal health department announced it is authorizing a submission from Canadian Blood Services to allow donations from men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months.
The agency will instead screen all potential blood and plasma donors for “high-risk sexual behaviours.” Under the new criteria, anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner will have to wait three months before donating, a Canadian Blood Services spokesperson said.
The change is expected to take effect by Sept. 30.
“Today’s authorization is a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system nationwide, and builds on progress in scientific evidence made in recent years,” Health Canada said in a statement.
This follows an evolution of policy from a lifetime blood donation ban imposed in the mid-1980s for men who had engaged in sex with men since 1977 to required abstinence periods of five years, three years and, starting in 2019, three months.
The prior rationale for the bans was that men who have sex with men had higher prevalence of HIV. But advocates and medical experts argued this was an outdated and stigmatizing assumption that did not reflect current risk factors.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Egale Canada, welcomed the decision and the end to a “discriminatory” policy. “Long overdue!” she wrote in an email.
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