Gay men will only be allowed to donate blood if they abstain from sex for at least one year prior - and authorities have yet to say when blood donations from gay donors will be allowed.
Following reports that men who have sex with men (MSM) would be able to give blood by the end of summer, a spokeswoman for the Health Ministry told Times of Malta “final preparations” were under way but did not specify a date by when the system is expected to be functioning. Similar announcements were made in August last year, this January and again in April.
The spokeswoman did not specify either whether the one-year deferral period would distinguish between MSM who have had multiple partners or those in monogamous relationships. They only said that the deferral period would be reviewed periodically.
“There are various factors to consider when deferral criteria for any situation are applied,” the spokeswoman said.
How do other countries handle donations from gay men?
Deferral periods for MSM vary from country to country. In Italy, Spain, Poland and Russia, among others, no deferral policies are in place. Instead, individual sexual risk evaluations are carried out, followed by testing.
In the UK and Canada, the deferral period is set at three months.
Denmark is expected to lift its ban on MSM blood donations and set the deferral period to three months. France will be cutting the deferral period from one year to four months.
Other countries, such as the USA, Finland and Sweden, have one-year deferral periods in place.
What do LGBTIQ activists say?
LGBTIQ activists welcomed the news that gay men would be allowed to donate blood.
However, they said that continuous sexual health awareness was critical and that better resources should be allocated to the GU clinic to allow conscientious people to assume responsibility for their sexual health before considering donating blood.
A spokesman for the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM) said that, given the effectiveness of modern testing equipment, the prohibition of MSM from blood donation had not been justified for some years.
“It is especially discriminatory to exclude those in a monogamous relationship, regardless of their sexuality, from being able to participate in the noble act of donating blood, potentially saving lives,” he commented.
Clayton Mercieca, community manager at Allied Rainbow Communities (Arc), said that while the rule change would allow MSM to donate blood, it did not represent and change in mindset and continued to feed into a stereotype about gay men that was resulting in ignorant and homophobic attitudes.
“We still are considered high risk, whether we engage in high-risk sexual activity or not,” Mr Mercieca told Times of Malta.
“It would be wiser to invest in more education and awareness about STIs and how they do not discriminate based on sexual orientation,” he said.
Both organisations shared their concerns about the situation at the GU clinic, which, they noted, was understaffed and where appointments for testing were being given with a waiting time of up to two months in some instances.