April 29 (UPI) -- Canadian health officials have lifted restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood following years of LGBTQ and advocacy groups accusing the federal health department of discrimination.
Canada Health announced Thursday that it has eliminated the current ban on men from donating blood if they have had sex with another man within the past three months.
Instead, Canadian Blood Services, a non-profit charitable organization that provides blood to Canadian healthcare systems, will screen all donors, regardless of gender of sexuality, for high-risk sexual behaviors via a donor-screening questionnaire.
"Today's authorization is a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system nationwide, and builds on progress in scientific evidence made in recent years," it said in a statement.
The health body made the change at the request of Canadian Blood Services, which has been advocating for the change for more than a decade.
According to the charitable organization, male donors will no longer be asked if they've had sex with another man and instead all will be screened based on their sexual history.
The new system, which will go into effect Sept. 30, will see the potential donor asked if they've had new or multiple sexual partners in the past three months. If they say yes to either question, they will be asked if they've had anal sex with any of their partners, to which a "yes" response would result in that person having to wait at least three more months to give blood.
The reason for the focus on anal sex is because of the act's significantly higher chance of HIV transmission per sex act performed compared to vaginal or oral sex, it said.
"Asking about anal sex in the context of new or multiple recent partners will allow us to more precisely and reliably identify those who may have increased chance of a newly acquired transfusion-transmissible infection," Blood Canada Services said in a statement.
He called the current approach discriminatory, wrong and should have been eliminated years ago.
The Liberal leader said he was elected in 2015 on the commitment to end the discriminatory practice, but was told more research was needed.
In response, his government spent more than $3.9 million to produce studies to ensure the safety of the blood supply, he said.
"This is good news for all Canadians," he said. "Our blood supply will continue to be safe and we're doing away with a discriminatory blanket ban."
Egale Canada, Canada's leading LGBTQ organization, said they "definitely welcome" the decision.
"Finally!" it cheered via Twitter. "Long over due!"
Canada has excluded men who have sex with men from donating blood since 1977 to prevent HIV from contaminating the blood supply. Then in 1992 when blood products became regulated, that ban was grandfathered in, according to Canadian Blood Services' website.