A local MLA is disappointed over new Canadian Blood Services guidelines surrounding blood donations from bisexual and gay men.
The new changes have reduced the blood-donation deferral period from one year to three months across Canada. The new guidelines mean a gay or bisexual man would need to abstain from sex for three months before donating blood. But Marie Renaud, NDP MLA for St. Albert, says it’s not enough.
“I would have hoped that Canadian Blood Services would have asked Health Canada to eliminate this altogether,” she expressed. “I don't really understand why we're not going to look at the science, and look at the reality life in Canada and just make these changes and stop the discrimination of this huge swath of people.”
Health Canada first prohibited bisexual and gay men from donating blood in 1992. The lifetime ban was implemented after thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C from tainted blood products.
In 2013 Canada Blood Services changed the rules, implementing a deferral period of five years. In 2016, the rules were changed again, requiring bisexual and gay men to abstain from sex for one year.
According to Canada Blood Service, HIV can go undetected for nine days after someone is newly infected with the disease.
Kristopher Wells, associate professor of health and community studies at MacEwan University, said it shouldn’t matter how someone identifies, since blood should all be treated the same.
“They’re saying … the HIV virus can still remain undetectable when donating blood for a period of time, that somehow the blood supply could be potentially at risk, even if all blood is tested. But that same logic holds true to heterosexual people as well,” he said.
Both Renaud and Wells agree Canadian Blood Services should instead ask behavioural questions that would apply to everyone, not just bi-sexual and gay men.
“Questions like, have you engaged with any unprotected sexual practices in the last, you know, three months?” said Wells. “If they have, then they're excluded from donating blood, because they're going to be in a high-risk group.”
Wells did say the deferral period keeps being reduced, which is a positive thing. But in his opinion, Canadian Blood Services shouldn’t have any restrictions over bisexual and gay men from donating blood.
“It totally makes you feel like a second class citizen in your own country,” he said. “(The policy) is based on old outdated stereotypes, which perpetuates stigma and misinformation.”
Wells added that drugs, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis and antiretroviral drugs, make it nearly impossible for people to contract or spread HIV. He said with new medications hitting the market, Canada Blood Services should update its own policies to reflect it.
“Blood is blood, it makes no difference. Blood doesn't discriminate based on your identity, and nor should Canadian Blood Services.”