Canada lifts restrictions on gay men's blood donations

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Health Canada announces a lifting of restrictions on blood donations by gay and bisexual men (AFP/GEORGES GOBET) (GEORGES GOBET)

Canada announced Thursday a lifting of restrictions on blood donations by gay and bisexual men that dates back to the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.

Instead, donors will be screened for high-risk sexual behaviors, regardless of gender or sexuality.

"Under the new screening approach, Canadian Blood Services will introduce a sexual behaviour-based donor-screening questionnaire that will apply to all donors of blood and plasma," the health department said in a statement.

The policy change -- to be implemented by September -- marks "a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system," it said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "good news for all Canadians," adding at a news conference: "Our blood supply will continue to be safe and we're doing away with a discriminatory blanket ban."

The move follows several changes to the blood donation regime over the past decade that saw deferral periods for donations by gay men progressively lowered from a lifetime ban to three months in 2019.

This meant at the time that men who had sex with men could not donate blood if they'd had sex during the period prior to the donation.

For years, advocates said the policy was discriminatory and not based on science.

Research cited by Health Canada said current risks of contracting HIV from the blood supply, with all samples tested, was estimated to be "very low," at 1 in 20.7 million.

It noted also that no HIV positive donations had been made in recent years.

Rob Oliphant, an openly-gay Canadian MP who lost his first partner to AIDS three decades ago, commented that the new blood donation policy was another step in a "long march of human rights, dignity and ending stigma."

It means "my blood is as good as anyone's blood," he said.

The outright ban on gay men donating blood had been introduced in 1992 after a tainted blood scandal that saw thousands of Canadians infected with HIV after receiving transfusions.

The Canadian Red Cross, which handled blood donations at the time, had failed to properly test and screen donors.

As many as 8,000 Canadians died, according to a public inquiry. And Canadian media reported at the time that people in Japan, Germany and Britain were also infected by blood products sent abroad.

France, Spain, Italy, Israel and Britain have similarly moved recently to loosen restrictions on blood donations.

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