Canada will soon lift its ban on blood donations by gay men, a policy that has been in place for nearly 30 years, Metro News reports.
However, the new Canadian Blood Services donation policy will still include restrictions. Gay men will only be allowed to donate blood if they have abstained from having sex with another man for five years prior to their donation.
Though the policy change still discriminates against gay men who are sexually active, agency executives hope the change will pave the way for gay men to fully integrated into the pool of blood donors in the future.
“So the message to them today is to simply bear with us,” said Dana Devine, vice president of medical, scientific, and research affairs at Canadian Blood Services. “We are working toward attempting to make the opportunity for additional people to donate blood … and we just aren’t quite there yet for that group of people.”
Approval to lift the ban for gay donors who meet the new five-year requirement came from Health Canada Wednesday. The ban had been initiated in the 1980s in response to the AIDS epidemic, as HIV can be transmitted through blood transfusions, and at the time blood products could not be screened for the virus, as they are now.
However, several health activists argue that the policy change does little to alleviate the stigmatization of gay men and say the policy should instead focus on screening out high-risk donors of all sexual orientations.
“A five-year ban on the ability for gay men to donate blood is not science-based and is still just as discriminatory as a lifetime ban,” members of Parliament Libby Davies and Randall Garrison said in a statement.
In recent years, several other countries have amended their blood donation policies to allow gay men to give blood, many of which use a smaller window of deferral for sexually active gay men than the Canada has adopted.
Both Australia and the U.K. allow gay men who have abstained from sex with another man for one year to donate, while South Africa requires only a six-month period of deferral.
In the United States, however, a lifetime ban remains in place.