Scientists ignore grant to research blood donations by gay men
Current rules bar men who have been sexually active with another man since 1977 from donating blood for his entire lifetime because of fears it would be tainted by HIV. The policy has been hotly contested.
The blood ban against gay men made headlines last year when a lawsuit required an Ontario judge to rule if the rules were discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She ruled the ban was lawful.
"Researchers of Canada: pay attention. Get on this," said Lorna Tessier, director of public relations for Canadian Blood Services. "It's a fully funded grant opportunity in a very interesting area of research."
Not a single research team has applied for the grant, which is jointly funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research. Tessier said she doesn't know why. The research could ultimately open the door for gay men to be added to the donor list.
The existing policy is "unsustainable," said Tessier. However, she said the agency needs researchers to help determine the conditions under which it would be safe to allow gay men to donate blood, research that could then be presented to Health Canada if it's ever finished.
Canadian AIDS researchers have already argued the ban is outdated and should be eliminated. In an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in May 2010, the researchers argue the ban limits the supply of blood and that it is hypocritical because there are hardly any restrictions on heterosexual donors, regardless of their level of sexual promiscuity.
Dr. Norbert Gilmore, the associate director of the McGill AIDS Centre and one of the authors of the study, said research into the blood ban would go a long way into providing a foundation for change.
"There are a lot of innovative ways to approach this," he said, citing the example of having mock donor clinics for the gay community to see who donates and test their blood or having a rolling study of gay men donating blood.