A civil union bill on the Mediterranean island is likely to pass but has raised other issues, including whether gay and bi men should be automatically excluded from donating blood
Malta has reaffirmed it will keep the ban on sexually active gay men giving blood – but the island nation is moving towards same-sex civil unions.
The Mediterranean island archipelago is currently debating a form of ‘gay marriage’ – which could be passed within weeks.
But that has led to questions about other LGBT issues, including about the ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men.
Malta Today reports him as saying: ‘It is immaterial whether a man is homosexual. The rule would still apply to heterosexual males if it transpires they have been engaging in such practices.
‘Consequently, coupled with their sexual practices, male homosexuals are excluded from donating blood as they form part of “high risk groups”.’
LGBT islanders responded by asking if the minister felt the problem was with sexual practices, for example anal sex, or if he believed all gays were promiscuous, and so should be excluded from donating blood on that basis.
Neil Falzon, director of Aditus, a group which campaigns for LGBT human rights in Malta, told GSN: ‘We are trying to understand exactly what the minister is saying.
‘The stance the civil society has taken over here is clearly regulations should not be related to sexual orientation but to sexual practices.
‘There seems to be the presumption male homosexuals are engaged in promiscuous activity and therefore there is a blanket ban on male homosexuals giving blood.’
Civil society groups have suggested Malta’s National Blood Transfusion Service should ask potential donors questions about whether they have engaged in high-risk sex, not whether they are gay or straight, to decide if they are eligible.
Now, in response to a request from Gay Star News, the Health Ministry has issued us a statement from Dr Alex Aquilina, director of the National Blood Transfusion Centre, to clear up the issue.
His detailed answer is reproduced in full below, but in brief, points out condom use doesn’t entirely eradicate the risk of HIV or other sexual infections, which disproportionately affect men who have sex with other men.
Therefore ‘a permanent deferral for men with a history of MSM behavior (not orientation) should remain in place, at least until the risk is scientifically shown to be the same as for other donations’.
There is no ban for men who identify as gay or bi but have never had gay sex.
While the blood ban remains in place for now, positive news is expected soon for same-sex partners.
The bill on introducing gay and lesbian ‘civil unions’ was presented last week and could conclude within just a week or two, before parliament moves on to complex budget-setting discussions.
Falzon told us: ‘The Maltese Church has issued its statement on the bill which was not as negative as expected.
‘We are expecting a number of minor objections but it looks as if the bill should pass as presented.’
The proposals would see registered gay and lesbian couples getting legal parity with married heterosexuals, but not full marriage equality. The unions would be comparable to civil partnerships in the UK.
Blood transfusion statement
The full statement from Dr Alex Aquilina reads:
‘In Malta, to assure the continued safety of the blood supply, we currently ask those people who may have a particularly high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses not to give blood.
‘This includes men who have ever had sex with another man / men. The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behavior (such as anal and oral sex). There is no exclusion of gay men (orientation) who have never had sex with a man or of women who have sex with women. The decision is not based on sexuality or orientation; only specific actions (ie risk behaviour). The National Blood Transfusion Service has a responsibility to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of safe blood to meet the needs of patients.
This includes a duty to minimize the risk of a blood transfusion transmitting an infection to patients – the European Union directive requires that ‘all necessary measures have been taken to safeguard the health of individuals who are the recipients of blood and blood components’.
‘The reasons for NBTS maintaining its current policy of permanently excluding men who have ever had sex with men from blood donation are as follows:
- Blood safety starts with the selection of donors before they give blood. By excluding persons with behaviors known to present a particularly high risk of blood-borne viruses, we are already reducing the risk of infected blood entering the blood supply.
- Every blood donation is tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and syphilis However, despite improvements in blood screening tests, a small number of infected donations may be missed because of the ‘window period’ between getting the infection and the test showing a positive result. The medical literature contains many recent examples.
- While safer sex, through the use of condoms, does reduce the transmission of infections, it cannot eliminate the risk altogether. Men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by HIV according to recent data in many countries.
‘Finally, while the primary requirement is to protect recipients, it is acknowledged that in order to supply blood for transfusion all decisions are based on a review of the evidence bearing in mind the desire of individuals to donate, the safety of the recipient, and the tolerance of society in general of any transfusion related infection occurring.
‘For Malta, the view of NBTS is that taking all of these aspects into account a permanent deferral for men with a history of MSM behavior (not orientation) should remain in place, at least until the risk is scientifically shown to be the same as for other donations.
‘As regards the practice for blood donation, the blood is tested after the donation. It is worth stressing again that testing is never 100% effective due to the possibility of the window period as explained previously, so the selection of ‘safe’ donors by deferring at risk groups (not necessarily individuals) remains a very important tool in securing the safety of our blood supply.’