Health Canada will allow men to donate blood if they haven’t had sex with a man in the last five years, a change in policy to take effect in the coming weeks.
Those of you have been around my Tumblr for a while will remember this post from a while ago which described the issues around the ban on gay men donating blood in most countries.
In short, for those who didn’t read it, Canada Blood Services, Héma Quebec and the blood collection agencies in most other Western countries have what they call “indefinite deferrals” for men who have sex with men.
Specifically, when going to donate blood, the CBS screening form asks something like:
“Are you a man who has had sex with another man, even once, since 1977?”
This question permanently excludes any gay man from donating blood.
Now, CBS has convinced Health Canada to reduce the ban to five years. In other words, if you’re gay, but haven’t had sex since 2008 or so, you’re good to go! (And my condolences for your sex life).
The five-year ban is just as, if not more discriminatory than the lifetime ban. When the lifetime ban was in place, CBS often protested that they weren’t discriminating; it caught men who had been sexually abused as children as well as men who had “experimented” with other men (boys) as children. Interestingly, CBS itself has admitted that: “A 1 year deferral period would easily cover the window period for HIV, HCV and HBV” (pg 3).
Now it pretty much just catches gay and bi men.
Even worse, now CBS can go around bragging about progressive and responsive they are. They can talk about this great progress they’ve made and how they’re “listening” to the Queer Communities.
Of course, they’re not. They know (as do the recipient groups), that five years is effectively the same as a lifetime ban. There will be no increase in donations because of the change.
Perhaps most galling is that there are already better options available in other countries:
In Japan, any person with a new sexual partner (of either gender) can’t donate for 6 months. This is what we call a behaviour based deferral - rather than targeting a particular group, it targets the actual causes of transmission.
South Africa has a 6 month ban for gay men.
Australia implemented a 1-year ban in 2000. Since then, they did a study comparing rates of HIV in the blood supply before and after the ban was changed. There was no change, and Australia is now considering if their 1-year ban is too long.
Amazingly, CBS’s own report on the topic explains that one mathematical model found that with a one-year deferral, “…one additional HIV infections unit would be released into the Canadian blood supply ever 500 years.”
That report goes on to point out that:
“By their very nature, modelling studies will never show a zero increment in risk. However, one may argue that these numbers are so low as to constitute a negligible risk increase.” (pg. 15)
Maybe if the change came with a promise by CBS to re-evaluate the ban on an ongoing basis, but they haven’t done that. They’ve said they’ll look at it, but there’s been no commitment - and with their track record, I have no faith in talk.
This change is not good. It’s not even okay. And it appears that the media actually understands that, to a certain extent. No one is trumpeting this news as a great victory and every article I’ve read talks about how other countries have shorter deferral periods. That’s good, because we can’t get complacent.
CBS has released a report (quoted in this post) that cites some of the studies they’ve used, but frustratingly, the report calls for a 1 year ban as much as, if not more than, a 5 year ban!
This post is now officially too long, but please, dear tumblrers, don’t think that this issue is dead.
Medical policy in Canada should be based on science, not bigotry.