Gay men should be able to donate blood by August while those who go abroad might not have to wait months to contribute to the reserves, as health authorities are investing in new equipment.

The equipment screens blood to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections and will also test people for viruses they might have contracted from abroad.

Gay men are currently prohibited from donating blood to prevent the transmission of HIV, which is disproportionately prevalent among such individuals.

However, with the introduction of what is known as Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) equipment, men in a relationship with other men would be able to donate blood.

Last year, Health Minister Chris Fearne had said that gay men will be able to donate blood by February this year. However, readers said they are still barred from giving blood.

When contacted, a Health Ministry spokeswoman said that the equipment for NAT has been purchased and was currently awaiting delivery.

Blood transfusion unit has a daily demand of 50 bags

This test would make it possible for certain diseases to be detected earlier, among them the HIV virus and the West Nile virus, she said.

The spokeswoman added that following delivery and installation of the equipment, the same equipment will be validated and the staff trained on its usage.

This meant that effectively, NAT testing would commence in about four months, she said.

With the new equipment, donors could be given the go-ahead to give blood without having to wait days or even months after returning from their travels.

The reduction in waiting time will be particularly important in summer, when the number of blood donations declines.

In September, Dr Alex Aquilina, head of the National Blood Transfusion Service, told Times of Malta that even a trip to Italy could expose donors to certain viruses.

Blood donations save lives and the blood transfusion unit has a daily demand of 50 bags, often struggling to keep up.

Those who wish to give blood and have returned from abroad over the past four weeks should call on 8007 4313 to check if they are eligible. Donors should take their identity card, driving licence or Maltese passport with them.

To keep updated, look up National Blood Transfusion Service – Malta on Facebook.

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