The ban on blood donation on men who have sex with men: time to rethink and reassess an outdated policy
During the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, most of the developed world instituted a permanent ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM). In recent years, public health agencies across Europe and North America are reconsidering and rescinding these restrictions. We examine the Canadian climate, where MSM may donate blood only after a 5-year deferral period. We review circumstances of the initial ban on MSM blood donations and recent social, legal, and economic changes that have encouraged Canadian public health officials to consider policy reform. We also review international evidence about the impact of reforming MSM blood donations. Given improvements in HIV screening technology, results from mathematical modeling studies, and empirical data from Italy, the UK, and Australia, we conclude that changing Canada's MSM blood donation policy from a 5- to a 1-year deferral would not increase the number of transfusion-transmitted HIV infections. We provide empirical support to the recently elected Liberal Canadian government's political promise to decrease restrictions on MSM blood donations.