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'Discriminatory' ban contributing to blood shortage in Ontario, group says

Last Updated Aug 17, 2018 at 6:42 pm EDT

A human rights group believes a dire blood shortage in Ontario could be alleviated by ending a “discriminatory” ban on donations from men who have had sex with men in the past year.

Egale Canada Human Rights Trust has launched an online campaign calling for an end to the ban, noting on its website, “Gay is not a blood type.”

“The goal of the campaign is to spread awareness of the discriminatory ban on people based on sexual orientation or gender from donating blood while at the same time trying to encourage donations of blood at a time where there is obviously a huge need for it,” Egale’s director of research and policy Richard Matern told CityNews.

“Right now men who have sex with men or trans people cannot donate blood until after a year of being abstinent, in relation to other sexual orientations or genders where there is no time limit to donate.

“There’s a real discriminatory element to it. It’s very outdated.”

Michael Betel, Ontario director of donor relations for Canadian Blood Services, admits the province is dangerously short on blood but maintains the eligibility criteria is in place to protect the health of patients.

“The eligibility criteria that we have is critical because we have to keep in mind at the end of the day patient safety is the most important thing for us to consider,” he said.

Betel said Canadian Blood Services has worked diligently to shorten ban periods for not only sexually active gay men, but also people who have tattoos and piercings or who have been treated for cancer. It has also removed an upper age limit.

“Men having sex with men used to be an indefinite deferral period, then it was down to five years. Now it’s at one year,” he stressed.

“There’s ongoing studies that we’re doing with Health Canada and it’s something that we continue to look at to see if we can reduce those timelines.”

One thing both Matern and Betel can agree on is the crucial need for more donors.

“We need to have between 20,000 to 30,000 units of blood in our inventory. We are at about 15,000 right now,” Betel said, adding that about 60,000 people donate each year but don’t come back a second time.

Matern believes through collaboration, both groups can meet their objectives.

“You can continue to work together and then you come up with progress,” he said. “They reduced the ban from lifetime to five years to one year. So we hope to continue to see that progress so we can help meet the needs of people who need blood.”

If you’d like to donate blood but aren’t sure if you’re eligible, visit blood.ca