Héma-Québec ends discriminatory blood donation policy for men who have sex with men
New screening approach eliminates 3-month deferral period
Quebec's blood agency has put an end to its blood donation eligibility assessment procedure that discriminates against gay and bisexual men, as well as others in the LGBTQ2+ community.
As of Sunday, Héma-Québec lifted its policy that restricts people in this group from donating blood for three months after being sexually active.
From now on, all potential blood donors in the province — regardless of sex, gender or sexual orientation — will undergo the same initial evaluation. The assessment of risk for sexual behaviour will therefore be based on an individual basis, rather than on belonging to a group considered to be at risk.
"Previously, what determined eligibility or not, to donate blood, was belonging to a high-risk group [...] where the prevalence of HIV, hepatitis B or C is higher," explained Laurent Paul Ménard, spokesperson for Héma-Québec, in an interview with ICI RDI.
"The objective is to maintain the same very high level of safety of blood products, while being more inclusive," he said.
The new questionnaire will still ask questions about pregnancy and sexual behaviours, and those who say they have had a new sexual partner in the last three months, or have multiple partners, will have to answer additional questions before they can donate blood.
The provincial organization said all donations are tested for possible infections before sending them to hospitals.
Héma-Québec said a similar approach has already been in effect in the UK since June 2021, but it has not resulted in a substantial increase in blood donations.
Last province in Canada to adopt new policy
Ménard said this step marks an important social change — one that took almost a decade.
In 2013, Health Canada changed the rules to allow men to donate blood if they haven't had sex with a man in the last five years.
Previously, men who said they had sex with a man, even once, since 1977, were not eligible to donate blood.
"These evidence-based reductions to the original lifetime restriction have not resulted in any increase in HIV-positive blood donations," said Health Canada in September, when it approved Héma-Québec's modified screening policy.
Health Canada approved Canadian Blood Services' request back in April to eliminate the three-month deferral period for men who have sex with men.
Quebec is the last province in Canada to lift the policy.
With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Joe Bongiorno