Concern About Mad Cow Disease Keeps Ban on British Blood Donors in Place

The clause excluding former U.K. residents, which is listed on the blood donor questionnaire, is one of a number of restrictions aimed at excluding donors whose blood may pose health risks to recipients.

There are no plans to lift Israel's ban on blood donations from former residents of the United Kingdom, the Health Ministry announced this week.

Issued following an inquiry by Anglo File, the statement will come as a disappointment to many British immigrants who say they would like to donate blood - especially in light of the current shortage - but are not allowed to do so.

The restriction on blood donations from those who spent more than six months in the U.K. between 1980 and 1996 was introduced in Israel in 1999, after it was learned that a form of CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), the human variant of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, popularly known as mad cow disease), could be transmitted by blood transfusions.

"It's a very sore point with me," said Ian Banks, chairman of Hitachdut Olei Britannia (Association of British Immigrants) this week. "I always gave blood until this new regulation came in. I think it's a bit stringent. It even applies to my son, who was one year old when we came to Israel in 1983 - even though he never ate meat there.

"To a certain extent, I can understand the regulations, but it's not as if there's been an outbreak. I'm no expert, so whether they've gone overboard and taken a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, I can't say. But it's upsetting that we can't give blood," Banks said.

Frustration in the British immigrant community has snowballed in recent weeks following repeated announcements by the Magen David Adom rescue service that its blood bank is suffering a severe shortage. Numerous British immigrants are reported to have shown up at blood drives around the country, only to be turned away. Since blood can only be stored for 35 days, the blood banks cannot accumulate reserves and donations are constantly necessary, MDA officials have stated.

"I can understand the need to be cautious, but in light of the blood shortage, they should look at the situation again. Maybe the time has come to reassess the danger," Brenda Katten, chairman of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, told Anglo File.

"Personally I find it very disappointing as someone who wants to give blood. We've been brought up to contribute in this way," said Manchester-born Modi'in resident Elise Rynhold. "It's a crazy situation where there are people desperate for blood and we can't give it."

The clause excluding former U.K. residents, which is listed on the blood donor questionnaire, is one of a number of restrictions aimed at excluding donors whose blood may pose health risks to recipients. Other groups ruled out from donating blood include men who have had sex with men, those who have received payment for sexual relations, and those who were born or have lived for more than a year since 1977 in a country where HIV is prevalent.

Both gay men and Ethiopian groups vociferously protested their exclusion from donating blood this month, charging that the criteria are homophobic and racist rather than medically sound.

A spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Tel Aviv said this week that none of its citizens had made contact with regard to the issue; nor had the embassy or the U.K. Department of Health liaised with any Israeli authorities on the matter. "It is up to the health authority in each country to determine its own policy," she said in a statement.

Israel is far from alone in not accepting blood donations from people who have visited or lived in the U.K. for six months or more between 1980 and 1996. [This is the period when BSE was epidemic in British cattle and when the risk to the population of acquiring a form of CJD was considered to have been greatest.] The United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and several European countries also do not accept donations according to this criterion.

Additionally, since 2002, even the United Kingdom has been using American-sourced fresh frozen plasma for treating babies and young children born after January 1, 1996. Since 2005, this has been extended to all children under the age of 16.