Canada puts out urgent call for blood donors – but gay and bi men are still excluded

Gay activists have criticised Canadian Blood Services (CBS) for excluding men who have sex with men (MSM), after it made an urgent call for blood donations.

CBS put out an urgent call for blood donations on August 13, stating that it needs more than 22,000 donors across the country by August 26.

“Donations now will help ensure the national blood inventory can meet patient needs for the rest of summer,” a CBS press release reads.

The service said it only has two-and-a-half days’ worth of O-positive blood left, and just one day’s worth of O-negative blood.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau pledged to get rid off the policy back in 2015, saying that it “ignores scientific evidence and must end.”

In 2016, the politician succeeded in reducing the timeframe required for men to refrain from having gay sex before they can donate blood from five years to one.

But, despite Trudeau being an outspoken supporter of LGBT+ rights, and marching in Montreal Pride in August, the prime minister has been unable to end the one-year ban on sexually active MSM.

Speaking to HuffPost, Gary Lacasse, executive director of the Canadian AIDS Society, said: “That’s where we take offence. [It’s] completely untrue [to say] that MSM contributes to most of the cases, when it’s a couple of percentage points higher. They’re disregarding that at least 45 per cent of people who contract HIV yearly are heterosexual.”

men holding hands

Gay and bi men must refrain from having sex with another man for a year before they can donate blood in Canada. (BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Christopher Karas, a lawyer and human rights activist, who is gay, told HuffPost: “This policy is rooted in a bias. I feel like I don’t really have a purpose in society when I’m being turned away when I’m trying to help.”

According to CBS, the one-year ban is because demographic group of MSM have the highest percentage (55 percent) of new HIV infections in the country.

However, CATIE, an organisation that provides information on HIV, the figures for new HIV infections for gay and bisexual men vary considerably across the country/.

In June. gay rights activists launched a campaign highlighting discriminatory blood donating policies worldwide for MSM. (FCB/GMHC)

Responding to a query about whether gay and bisexual men can donate blood, CBS wrote on Twitter on August 20: “Men who have sex with men are eligible to donate blood one year after their last sexual contact with another man. A focused effort toward evidence-based change is also underway.”

According to Catie, MSM made up slightly more than half of new HIV infections in British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario.

However, in Manitoba and Alberta, around 50 percent of straight couples accounted for new infections – and, in Saskatchewan, MSM made up just eight percent of new reported infections.

In June, LGBT+ activists launched an initiative aimed at raising awareness of discriminatory blood donating policies at five countries across the world, including Canada.