Canada has lifted a policy that banned men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, though certain restrictions still apply.
Like the policy currently in place in the United States, Canada’s policy enforced a lifetime ban on donation by MSM as a way of “protecting” the blood supply from diseases like HIV that are associated with gay sex. Now, MSM will be able to donate as long as they haven’t had sex with another man in the last five years.
“Recent scientific data and advances in transfusion safety led us to review the exclusion of men who have had sex with another man. This change is scientifically justified and will in no way endanger the high degree of safety of blood products,” Dr. Marc Germain, vice president of medical affairs at non-profit blood management organization Héma-Québec, said in a separate news release.
According to Héma-Québec, there is still the need for an exclusionary period, due to the fact that some groups are “at risk of infections that can be transmitted through transfusion.” The organization went on to say, “The frequency of HIV transmission among men who have had sex with other men (MSM) is still higher today than in the general population.” In 2011, approximately 46.7 percent of people living with HIV in the country were MSM.
This is a step in the right direction — and the U.S. should be taking note — but it’s not enough. The deferral period in Britain and Australia is one year; in South Africa, it’s six months. Hopefully one day we’ll realize that this is a policy rooted in ignorant stereotypes, and we’ll abolish it entirely.