Thursday, September 22, 2011 , by Claudia Calleja
Gay men should be allowed to donate blood so long as they do not pose health risks to patients, according to the Malta Gay Rights' Movement. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier
The Gay Rights Movement has called for the lifting of a "discriminatory" ban prohibiting homosexual men from donating blood in the wake of a move in this direction by the UK.
It should be risky sexual behaviour that excludes you from donating blood and not sexual orientation, the movement's head, Gaby Calleja, said.
Her call comes after the UK last week made a similar move and modified a ban which had been introduced in the 1980s to prevent the risk of HIV contamination.
The UK's decision came with a peculiar condition that male gay donors have to be celibate during the 12 months preceding their giving of blood – a measure intended to reduce the risk of HIV transmission since the virus may not show up immediately during testing.
Ms Calleja pointed out that, while she believed the safety of the blood quality was to be given priority, there were gay men who were monogamous and, therefore, not at risk of transmitting HIV, just like any other heterosexual couple.
Britain's decision last week follows that of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other countries in doing away with the controversial lifetime ban. But it seems Malta will not be joining anytime soon – at least not until medical studies reassure health authorities of the contrary.
A Health Ministry spokesman said the National Blood Transfusion Service adopted a policy based of self exclusion where people who had a high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses did not give blood.
High-risk behaviour includes promiscuity and risky sexual behaviour, drug abuse, consumption of certain medications and travelling to areas with high risk of disease.
The spokesman insisted that when it came to the ban on gay men, "the reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour and is not based on sexuality or orientation but on risk".
While safer sex, through the use of condoms, reduced the transmission of infections, it did not eliminate the risk altogether. Men having sex with men were disproportionately affected by HIV according to recent data in many European countries, the spokesman pointed out.
Donated blood is tested for various viruses, including HIV. However, despite improvements in blood screening tests, a small number of infected donations may be missed because of the "window period" between catching the infection and the test showing a positive result.
Ms Calleja stressed it was important to give first priority to the safety of the blood supply. However, the fact remained that the blanket ban was "unjustified and discriminatory".
She reiterated the determining factor should not be sexual orientation but behaviour.
"I think the gay community is as diverse as the heterosexual community. In the same way that there are gay men who are promiscuous, there are straight men who are. I don't think it's a phenomenon particular to gay men," she said.
She called on the Maltese authority to reconsider its position and follow the UK policy.