The Canadian Blood Services are reviewing their donation policy when it comes to gay and bisexual male donors. The current policy states that gay men can only donate if they've abstained from sex for an entire year. The new policy they're considering is slashing that wait time down to three months.
This has been a heated topic for a long time and it all stems from the 1980s when HIV testing wasn't available. Thousands of Canadians were infected with the virus from CBS blood donations, which resulted in the ban of gay and bisexual men from donating. Today, they test all donations for several diseases along with HIV.
The ban was eventually lifted. However, they still had a policy in place that stated a gay male donor would have to abstain from sex for a period of five years before donating. In 2016, that was again changed to a period of one year. These are known as deferral processes and they are aimed at allowing enough time between sexual intercourse and accurate HIV testing.
According to the CBS website, the deferral process continues to change as they extensively review scientific and epidemiologic evidence. They use a form of testing known as NAT to test blood for HIV. This testing greatly reduces the length of time HIV can go undetected in a person.
In 2002, the deferral process - which many called discriminatory - was challenged by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Ontario Superior Court eventually ruled that the criteria for gay men was not discriminatory but was in fact based on health and safety.
As a 2016 report by the Canadian Government reveals, men who have sex with men made up 44.1 percent of HIV cases reported nationally.
Canadians on social media are having mixed reactions to the news of slashing deferral times from one year to three months. Although, three months is a standard accepted window for accurate testing, according to Dr. Dustin Costescu who spoke to CBC.
It's very slowly getting better. There really should be no waiting time. Everyone should be equal.— Carl Smith (@carlwsmith) October 16, 2018
Some are calling for total equality, saying gay men wishing to donate blood should be treated as any other donor with zero wait times. "Let’s be clear: Any deferral is unacceptable discrimination. It’s time to end this homophobic ban," one Twitter user wrote.
Others support longer deferral processes, "The reasoning behind this is that gay men have a higher percentage of blood transmitted diseases than the average person. I can see why people might think that this is homophobia, but there really is a statistical reason behind it," said another tweet.
Others are on the fence, stating deferral times should exist, not only for gay men but for anyone who might be considered promiscuous.
They should just be able to donate blood without any restrictions. Queer men aren't even the most infected minority in the population. It's #discrimination / #homophobia / #queerphobia. It's 2018. Science & #SocialJustice have advanced beyond this. Fix it #canadianbloodservices. https://t.co/KsLrn6QFOI— Helen Sunflower (@HelenSunflower) October 16, 2018
The CBS says they're exploring the possibility of moving toward behaviour-based screening. They don't go into detail about what this means exactly, but we can probably assume safe sex and promiscuity could be some of the behaviours they refer to.
Whether the three-month deferral will go forward is essentially up to Health Canada in the end. CBS hasn't announced any date or timeline for the potential change.
Source: CBC, Twitter, Canadian Blood Services, Government of Canada