Israel Lifts Sweeping Ban on Ethiopian Israeli Blood Donations

Sweeping ban on anyone born in Ethiopia scrapped; under new rules, only those who spent more than a year in a country with an endemic disease cannot donate blood.

Israelis of Ethiopian origin protest in Jerusalem in 2006 against a ban on accepting blood donated by their compatriots.
Tomer Appelbaum/Tau

New Health Ministry rules that will finally allow Ethiopian-Israelis to donate blood will take effect on July 1, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said Monday.

The ministry announced the rule change about a month ago, but without specifying its effective date.

MDA representatives announced the date at Monday’s meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. They said the delay was needed to make various necessary preparations, such as buying new equipment, teaching staff to conduct new tests and setting up a new system for tracking donations.

The new rules, which will apply to all Israelis, regardless of their ethnic origin, basically copy those in force in other developed countries. They ban blood donations only if someone has spent more than a year in a country with an endemic disease, and only for the first year after his arrival in or return to Israel. In contrast, the old rules permanently banned blood donations from anyone born in Ethiopia or had spent more than a year there since 1977.

The ministry also revised the rules for donations from homosexuals. Previously, they couldn’t donate if they had had sexual relations at any time since 1977. The new rules bar donations only from homosexuals who have had sex within the past year.

Finally, the ministry abolished the rule that first-time donors could not be older than 65. Instead, elderly donors will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“This is a fundamental change that requires us to upgrade the entire existing system, and that’s exactly what we’re doing now,” Prof. Eilat Shinar, director of MDA’s blood services, told Haaretz. “Therefore, we said we could implement the rules only as of July 1.”

Currently, she said, MDA uses tests that were last updated in 2008. But more sensitive tests – which, for instance, allow better detection of HIV – have since been developed, and MDA is now preparing to introduce them.

In addition, the Health Ministry is setting up a system for tracking donations and analyzing the impact of the new rules, which will require new equipment, she said.

“The instruments and the tests have already been ordered,” Shinar said. “Now, we’re waiting for them to arrive.”

But Immigration Committee Chairman MK Avraham Nagosa (Likud) didn’t buy these arguments. “MDA’s decision to delay accepting these donations for another half year, even though there’s no medical justification for it, is a continuation of the discrimination and deprivation,” he charged.