Israel to Lift Ban on Blood Donations From Ethiopian Israelis

Following Haaretz report, Health Ministry says it will finally adopt never-before published recommendations issued by a team of professionals more than a year-and-a-half ago.

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

The Israeli Health Ministry has said it would lift restrictions on accepting blood donations from residents of Ethiopian origin, a month after Haaretz reported that the ministry had failed to act on recommendations issued earlier to do so.

The ministry said it would set criteria equal to those followed by the developing world so that restrictions would only apply to people who have spent more than a year in an endemic country (where deadly diseases regularly appear) and who returned to Israel less than a year ago.

A  professional committee appointed by the ministry decided unanimously that Israel should accept blood donations from residents of Ethiopian origin residing in Israel for more than a decade. The recommendations were presented to the ministry director general at the time in April 2015, but never  published.

Israel has never accepted blood donations from citizens of Ethiopian origin not born in Israel.

Former Health Minister Yael German said the recommendations were given to her successor, Yaakov Litzman, but his office preferred to ignore them due to other recommendations that ease the acceptance of blood donations from LGBT Israelis. 

German, who called the recommendations “revolutionary,” said that if they were accepted, 98 percent of Israelis of Ethiopian origin could be blood donors.

Dr. Daniel Raday, chairman of Doctors of Ethiopian Origin, told Haaretz that HIV carriers is not the main issue “but rather newly infected people. Treating the Ethiopian population as infecting the blood bank is mistaken. This injustice must be stopped.”

The Health Ministry said “the issue is being discussed,” and that precise directives would be issued with regard to blood donors.

The ban on Ethiopian donors was exposed in 1996 when it was reported that thousands of donations from Israelis of Ethiopian origin were destroyed, stirring public outrage.

The issue has been in the headlines every few years since. In 2013 then lawmaker Pnina Tamno Shata of Yesh Atid refused to donated blood citing that Ethiopians were  considered to have “a unique type of blood.” A month beforehand German named a professional committee to look into the issue.