Canadian Blood Services recommends stopping the ban on men having sex with men who donate blood

An end to the ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood – promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 – will be recommended within a few weeks in favor of new screening criteria based on sexual history and behavior.

Canadian Blood Services is preparing to ask Health Canada to allow it to scrap gender or sexuality issues and instead base screening on higher-risk sexual behavior. Potential donors could be asked if they have had multiple sexual partners, and about their sexual behavior instead of their sexuality and gender.

“Sexual behavior, not sexual orientation, determines the risk of sexual transmission of HIV. Our proposed criteria will aim to accurately and reliably identify those who may have a transfusion-transmitted infection, especially during the window period, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.” said Catherine Lewis, a spokeswoman for Canadian Blood Services, who declined to comment further on the recommendation.

Currently, men who voluntarily donate blood are asked if they have had sex with a man within the last three months. Women who want to donate are asked if they have had sex with a man within the last three months who have had sex with another man within the last 12 months.

The blood service says it is preparing to cite evidence from countries that do not ask donors such questions, as well as research into the risk of HIV transmission, in its submission to Health Canada within the next six weeks.

A study of research into HIV transmission between January 2001 and May 2012 by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that “all studies consistently reported that anal intercourse is a higher risk action than vaginal intercourse, which in turn is a higher risk action than oral intercourse. “

The way the screening is currently set up lacks nuances and also does not address people who are transgender, bisexual or otherwise do not affirm to binary genders, said Nathan Lachowsky, one of several researchers, if work will inform Canadian Blood Services’ Application.

“There’s a way to create gender – neutral solutions, which means it’s not about who you are in relation to your gender and gender,” said Lachowsky, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health and Social Affairs. Policy at the University of Victoria. “It simplifies the system and makes it more accessible to more Canadians.”

The UK has recently changed criteria

The UK criteria for blood donation, which Blood Services says they have considered along with the criteria from other countries, do not include issues of sexual orientation. It asks potential donors if they have had multiple partners and engaged in anal sex.

Gay and bisexual men who have had the same partner for three months or more can donate blood in the UK. However, anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner or partners in the previous three months – regardless of their partner’s gender – must wait three months before donating.

As it stands now in Canada, a gay man who has had sex with a partner for the past three months cannot donate blood, but a heterosexual man can, no matter how many partners he has had sex with within the same time frame.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under pressure from MPs and the LGBTQ community to scrap questions for donors targeting gay men. (CBC)

While Canadian Blood Services tests all of its donated blood products for a wide range of diseases, including HIV, the agency says no test is 100 percent accurate.

That’s why eligibility screening is so important a part of limiting the risk to blood recipients, according to the agency’s website.

Lachowsky, who did not comment on the specific issues that will be included in the Canadian proposal, said a neutral approach makes much more sense than basing restrictions on gender and sexuality.

“It means that in my eyes we are increasing the security of the blood system broadly,” he said.

Changes ‘a long time ago’, says NDP MP

Trudeau has come under pressure from lawmakers and the LGBTQ community to scrap questions for donors targeting gay men. During the September election, Trudeau promised that a change was imminent.

Randall Garrison, the NDP spokesman for LGBTQ affairs, said the change is “the longest required.” He said many countries, including Italy, do not have such criteria, “without problems.” The MP has been pushing ministers to stop the ban on donating gay and bisexual blood for almost 10 years.

“I have been calling for a shift to risk-based criteria for a decade. I have argued that two things are wrong [with this policy]: limiting the blood supply and promoting homophobia, “he said.

Health Canada, which regulates the blood service, can only change the criteria if evidence is provided that this will not increase the risk.

Canadian Blood Services has analyzed available research to find the safest way to make the change. This includes an MSM (Men Having Sex with Men) research program and a 2020 For the Assessment of Individualized Risk (FAIR) report from the UK on blood donation and risk.

The FAIR report highlighted anal sex and “chemical sex” or sexualized drug use as a risk factor, but also warned that anal sex issues could deter new donors.

“The security of Canada’s blood supply will always be paramount to us. We have more evidence than ever before, stemming from the MSM Research Program, international data and Canada-specific risk modeling indicating that sexual behavior-based screening will not impose a risk on blood supply. , “said Lewis.

Canada introduced a lifetime ban on gay men in 1992. In 2013, it allowed the acceptance of blood from a man who abstained from sex with another man for at least five years.

The waiting time then dropped to one year and became three months in 2019.

When Canadian Blood Services submits its application to change the screening requirements, it will be up to Health Canada to approve it. The process can take several months to a year before the changes take effect.

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