The U.K. health department has said it will lift the ban on blood donations from gay men, reports the Daily Mail. Beginning in November, gay men in Britain will be eligible to give blood, provided they have not been sexually active with another man for at least 12 months. While this is a step forward in equality, homosexual men in monogamous relationships will still be excluded from donating blood.
Blood agencies in the U.K., Canada and the U.S., as well as several other industrialized countries, had permanently banned blood donations from men who have sex with men since the 1980s. The ban was put into place after high infection rates of HIV/AIDS.
In order to donate blood, Canadians must complete a screening process which identifies high-risk activities. Currently, a man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977 is prohibited from giving blood in Canada or the U.S. Prostitutes, anyone who has had sex with a prostitute and intravenous drug users are also banned from donating blood. Despite these exclusions of people who engage in high-risk activities, there are no definitive limitations preventing sexually promiscuous heterosexuals from donating.
In addition to the screening process, Canadian Blood Services tests all donated blood for infectious diseases such as syphillis, Hepatitis B and C, HIV 1 and 2 and Human T-Cell lymphotropic virus HTLV-I and II, West Nile Virus and Chagas Disease.
In a 2010 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Mark Wainberg of Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, and his co-authors argued for reconsideration of the ban. According to Wainberg and his colleagues, the risk of a false negative on an HIV test has been nearly eliminted since Canada’s blood system began using a highly sensitive nucleic acid test to screen blood. The time between contracting HIV and when tests can detect it has also been reduced to 12 days.
With the revision to the U.K.’s donation policy, Canada is under pressure to follow suit. Vice-president of public affairs for Canadian Blood Services, Jean-Paul Bédard, told CBC News that Canadian Blood Services and its counterpart Héma Québec are in fact reconsidering the permanent ban that is currently in place.
But will Canada lift the ban entirely, or will there be a waiting period during which men must refrain from having sex with another man before giving blood? Do you think the ban should be lifted with, or without, a deferral period?