Gay men will be allowed to donate blood as of next week, with a blanket ban on blood donation for men who have sexual relationships with other men (MSM) being lifted.

The ban was lifted after the National Blood Transfusion Service acquired advanced testing equipment. 

Last year around 17,000 people visited the Blood Donation Unit and gave their blood, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Wednesday.

That number is expected to rise now that the specialised equipment will allow for Nucleic Acid Testing.

This type of testing will allow testers to identify HIV and other viruses in the blood earlier, as it tests for genetic material rather than antigens or antibodies.

A spokesman for the National Blood Transfusion Service said that restrictions for MSM had been eased and that gay men would be able to donate blood after abstaining from sex for one year.

Dr Fearne said despite launching with an initial one-year deferral period, this may eventually be trimmed down to four months after epidemiological results from the new NAT testing are verified. 

Pride Week timing

In reaction, the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM) welcomed the news that gay men would now be able to donate blood. They however noted that the announcement coincided conveniently close to ongoing Pride Week celebrations.

MGRM has insisted that, given the effectiveness of modern testing equipment, it is no longer reasonable to require long periods of abstinence from people, especially those in monogamous relationships, to be able to donate blood.

The NGO said that it has always been open to dialogue in order to better contribute to matters of sexual health as well in the noble gesture of donating blood.