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About Men Who Have Sex with Men

Why we talk about this screening criterion

Before the introduction of testing for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the mid-1980s, thousands of Canadians were infected through tainted blood products. Being solely responsible for Canada’s blood supply at that time, the Canadian Red Cross Society introduced a donor eligibility criterion that excluded all men who have had sex with a man even once since 1977. This criterion was embedded into Health Canada regulations in 1992.

At Canadian Blood Services, we periodically review our donor eligibility criteria, including those related to men who have sex with men. In 2016, Health Canada approved Canadian Blood Services’ and Héma-Québec’s applications to reduce the men who have sex with men ineligibility period from five years to one year. In other words, as long as they meet all other donor eligibility criteria, a man is now eligible to donate blood if it has been at least one year since he last had sex with another man. These changes are important steps towards being as minimally restrictive as possible while also maintaining the safety of the blood supply.

This change in eligibility was made after extensive review of scientific and epidemiologic evidence. Equally important was the consultation with high-interest groups, including patient groups representing heavy users of blood and blood products as well as members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer community groups.

What’s next? 

Canadian Blood Services is exploring the possibility of moving toward behaviour-based screening.

Our aim is to identify a long-term solution that prioritizes patient safety while minimizing the societal impact on certain groups of people. We established a working group, which includes representation from patient advocacy groups, as well as LGBTQ community organizations, to serve as a forum for ongoing discussion and consultation as we develop further changes in eligibility criteria. We have also committed to research funding, as described below.

A two-day meeting was held in January 2017 with national and international stakeholders to identify research priorities for closing knowledge gaps that impact donor eligibility for men who have sex with men. Read more

Facilitating blood research

Many deferred donors in Vancouver (and those travelling to the area) are eligible to donate blood for important research and development projects at our Network Centre for Applied Development (netCAD).

Canadian Blood Services is a world leader in discovery research and applied development related to blood and blood products: your donation could help us build the future of transfusion medicine. Make an appointment to donate blood for research.

Key facts

International standard

There is no international consensus on an optimal deferral period for men who have sex with men, since the patterns, causes and effects of HIV infection differ by country. Currently many large blood suppliers such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands have or are implementing a one-year deferral. In 2014, Australia’s health regulator denied a proposal to move from a one-year men who have sex with men deferral period to six months.

One-year deferral period

Men who have sex with men account for the largest proportion of new HIV infections reported in Canada. A one-year deferral period, which was implemented in 2016, was chosen as a safe incremental step forward in updating our blood donation criteria based on the latest scientific evidence.

In 2013, the ineligibility period was reduced to five years, replacing a previous regulation which affected men who had sexual contact with another man even once since 1977. Canadian Blood Services is exploring the possibility of moving toward a behaviour-based screening criteria.

Blood testing

We use antibody testing and nucleic acid amplification testing (NAT) to test blood for HIV. Introduced in 2001 and since upgraded, NAT greatly reduces the length of time HIV can go undetected in a person infected with the virus. However, there is still an approximately nine day period shortly after infection when an individual may transmit HIV but the virus is not detected by our tests. That’s why we use screening questions before a donation is made as part of a multi-tiered safety system to protect patients. Learn more here.

Stem cells and organ donation

Regulations for organ and stem cell donations are different than those for blood donation. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the topic.

Men who have sex with men eligibility history

In the mid-1980s, Canadian Blood Services‘ predecessor, the Canadian Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service introduced a donor selection criterion that excluded all men who have sex with men since 1977 to protect the blood supply from HIV. In 1992, blood products became regulated by the national blood system regulator, Health Canada, and the criterion was ‘grandfathered’ into existing regulations.

Canadian Blood Services thoroughly reviewed the men who have sex with men eligibility criteria in 2006. In June 2007, the board of directors concluded the current men who have sex with men deferral criteria should be maintained, but Canadian Blood Services should actively gather information to gain more knowledge on the subject.

In 2010, in response to a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge launched in 2002, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the deferral criteria for men who have sex with men is not discriminatory because it is based on health and safety considerations. Justice Aitken of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that:

  • Blood donation is a gift, not a right
  • There is no requirement under law to accept the gift of blood
  • Donors have a duty to answer questions honestly
  • The men who have sex withmen deferral is not discriminatory, but is based on health and safety consideration
  • The need for lifetime deferral period was not demonstrated

In 2011, Canadian Blood Services’ board of directors approved plans to move away from the long-standing permanent deferral for men who have sex with men since 1977 to a defined term of not more than 10 years and not less than five years since last sexual contact.

In 2013, Health Canada approved the change in donor selection criteria for men who have sex with men from an indefinite deferral period for any man who had sex with another man even once since 1977 to a time-based deferral of five years since last sexual contact.

In June 2016, Health Canada approved our proposal to reduce the blood donation ineligibility period for men who have sex with men from five years to one year. This new eligibility criteria was implemented on Aug. 15, 2016.

A two-day meeting will be held in January 2017 with national and international stakeholders to identify research priorities for closing knowledge gaps that impact donor eligibility for men who have sex with men. Read more