Health Ministry to Ease Blood Donation Restrictions on Gay Men, Ethiopians

Committee expected to recommend a restriction of between one and five years on male gay sex.

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A mobile blood donation center in downtown Jerusalem.Credit: BauBau
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

A Health Ministry committee is expected to recommend soon that gay men be allowed to donate blood - with limited restrictions.

The ministry has been prohibited from accepting blood donations from gay men since the discovery of the AIDS virus and the identification of gay men as a risk group in the Eighties.

The professional committee, which was appointed by former ministry director-general Professor Ronni Gamzu, was charged with reviewing the questionnaire filled out by prospective blood donors. The questionnaire currently prohibits blood donations by people with specified illnesses, drug users and prostitutes, gay men and people who have lived in countries with high AIDS rates.

The committee has not made its final recommendations, but it is expected to abolish the rule allowing gay men to donate blood only if they have abstained from sexual relations with men since 1977. A new restriction will require an abstention period of one to five years before donating blood - with the exact duration to be finalized.

Many countries prohibited gay men from donating blood in the 1980s for fear that they might be carriers of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Several have since eased the criteria for accepting donations from gay men, allowing them to donate blood after abstention periods ranging from six months to five years.

The committee is also expected to recommend that blood donations be accepted from people born in Ethiopia who have lived in Israel for at least 10 years. A prospective donor who has visited Ethiopia since coming to Israel will have to wait a prescribed period of time after the visit before donating blood.

No blood donations from the Ethiopian community were accepted until 2007, when the criteria were eased somewhat.

Certain populations are defined as risk groups for blood donation. These include people who have hepatitis, drug users, prostitutes, hemophiliacs and people who lived for more than a year in countries with high AIDS rates. At one stage, French immigrants were not permitted to donate blood for fear of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, a restriction that was dropped in 2007.

The reason for easing the donation criteria for gay men and people of Ethiopian origin is not due solely to the need to expand the donation pool. It also has to do with laboratory technology advances in recent decades and improved diagnostic capabilites.