By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) -Canada said on Thursday it is lifting a ban on blood donations from sexually active men who have sex with men, first imposed decades ago, as part of an effort to create a "more inclusive" system.
The federal health department announced it is authorizing a submission from Canadian Blood Services to allow donations from men who have had sex with another man within the previous three months.
Instead of requiring men who have sex with men to remain abstinent for at least three months before donating, the agency will screen all potential blood and plasma donors for "high-risk sexual behaviours." Under the new criteria, anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner will have to wait three months before donating, a Canadian Blood Services spokesperson said.
The change is expected to take effect by Sept. 30.
"Today's authorization is a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system nationwide, and builds on progress in scientific evidence made in recent years," Health Canada said in a statement.
This follows an evolution of policy from a lifetime ban on blood donations, imposed in the mid-1980s, from men who had engaged in sex with men since 1977. The government gradually whittled down the required abstinence periods to five years, three years, and - starting in 2019 - three months.
The prior rationale for the bans was that men who have sex with men had higher prevalence of the human immunodeficiency virus. But advocates and medical experts argued this was an outdated and stigmatizing assumption that did not reflect current risk factors.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Egale Canada, welcomed the decision and the end to a "discriminatory" policy. "Long overdue!" she wrote in an email.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberal party has been promising to end the blood ban since 2015, called Thursday "a good day" and the blanket ban "discriminatory."
"It took too long," he told reporters. "This should have been done 10 years ago, 15 years ago. But the research ... simply wasn’t done by any previous government. So we did it."
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in TorontoEditing by Paul Simao and Matthew Lewis)