As of Thursday, Israelis who were born in Ethiopia will be able to donate blood, the Health Ministry announced. Israel now joins most of the countries in the Western world which have already removed their bans on blood donations by immigrants from Africa.
Israeli policy, similar to policy that was until recently in force in Europe, prevented anyone who had lived one or more years in countries at high risk for certain diseases, from donating blood. In Israel, the ban covered most of Africa, as well as many countries in South America. However, because of their numbers, the issue was most relevant — and sensitive — for Ethiopian immigrants in Israel.
The ban on blood donations by Ethiopian donors had been in effect for nearly a decade, but came to public attention only three years ago, when former MK Penina Tamno-Shatta, an Ethiopian native, sought to donate blood in the wake of a blood drive in the Knesset, but was told that she was not allowed to because she had formerly lived in a high-risk country. Then-Health Minister Yael German decried the rule, which had been decided upon unilaterally by Magen David Adom — the body responsible for blood-donation matters in Israel — and demanded that something be done.
That “something” was the empaneling of a group of experts to examine the issues and make recommendations. On Thursday, that panel issued its final report, recommending that Israel, like the U.S. and most of Europe, now allow donations from high-risk countries. “The technology to determine if a donation is problematic is developed enough to allow individuals from these countries to donate blood,” the panel wrote in its report.
Speaking to Yediot Achronot, Tamno-Shatta said Thursday that “even though this policy comes years after it should have been made, the light has finally shown through the clouds, and the state has conquered its phobia. This is the end of discrimination and labeling of soldiers, the elderly, and youth from the Ethiopian community, the end of discrimination on the basis of blood. This is an important moment for the cause of equality.”