Pioneering AIDS researchers call to lift ban that prevents gay men from donating blood in Canada.
Since 1983, blood agencies in Canada, the United States and many other industrialized nations have disallowed all blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM.) While a total ban was justified scientifically and ethically in 1983, in 2010 it no longer makes sense, say AIDS researchers Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. Norbert Gilmore in an article to be published May 25 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal
Dr. Wainberg heads the HIV research program at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research (LDI) at the Jewish General Hospital and was a co-discoverer of 3TC, one of the first drugs known to control HIV. He also heads the McGill University AIDS Centre, based at the LDI. Dr. Norbert Gilmore is a professor at the McGill Faculty of Medicine and the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, and is a clinician at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC.)
"The 1983 ban has hung on so long, unfortunately, because many people became infected by HIV in the early 80s through blood transfusions, and they have mounted continuing pressure on the blood agencies to maintain the ban," says Wainberg. "While we can sympathize with them, this no longer makes sense in 2010, and with each passing year it makes less sense."
In the article, Wainberg and Gilmore advocate allowing only those gay men in stable, long-term, monogamous relationships to donate blood, while maintaining the ban on those with multiple sex partners. Heterosexuals with multiple partners, he points out, currently only face one-year deferrals.
"Other jurisdictions, like Australia, have already replaced the lifetime ban with more balanced and realistic policies, and I think it's time that Canada and the U.S. did the same," says Gilmore. "Today's technology makes it almost impossible for HIV to slip through, and the total ban puts a huge burden on blood agencies and the blood supply. We constantly have blood shortages that would not occur, perhaps, if we had a more reasonable policy."
"There's a social justice aspect to this as well, which extends beyond the gay community," Wainberg adds. "When a discriminatory policy isn't justified by the science, it leads to controversy. We've seen protests and boycotts of blood drives on Canadian campuses, so I think the blood agencies would be better off if they agreed with us. I suspect, honestly, that many of them already do, in private."