Former UK residents no longer banned from giving blood in Israel

Magen David Adom says risk of infection no longer ‘justifies turning away blood donors’ who had been barred since 1999 over mad cow disease

Magen David Adom personnel at a blood donation drive in Moshav Yashresh, central Israel, on March 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Magen David Adom personnel at a blood donation drive in Moshav Yashresh, central Israel, on March 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Individuals who lived in the United Kingdom for more than six months can now donate blood in Israel, after 24 years of being banned from doing so, the Magen David Adom emergency service announced on Sunday.

Since 1999, anyone who had lived in Britain for more than six months between 1980 and 1996, or received a blood transfusion there during that time, was turned away from donating blood over fears they could have been infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known colloquially as mad cow disease, a fatal brain infection.

MDA, which operates the national blood bank service, said in a statement that the Health Ministry “adopted the FDA directives” on the issue and decided “to remove the restrictions on receiving blood donations from those from Britain.”

The Health Ministry did not immediately confirm MDA’s announcement.

The US Federal Drug Administration ruled last year that the “risk does not justify turning away blood donors in the same way as in the past,” since it is “negligible.”

The FDA’s decision was based on data published in the UK that showed the calculated risk of transfer of vCJD through plasma from blood donations is one or two cases every 50 years.

Former health minister Nitzan Horowitz donates blood at a Magen David Adom blood donation center in Jerusalem, on October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The UK suffered a large outbreak of mad cow disease in its cattle in the late 1980s, with the disease occasionally transmitting to consumers of cow’s meat.

According to the BBC, as of 2018, 178 deaths had been attributed to the disease, although it’s thought that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier.

Professor Eilat Shinar, deputy director general of blood services at MDA, said she was “pleased” that regulations had been amended to allow more people to donate blood.

“We look forward to meeting these donors once again at MDA blood donation locations across Israel, in order to continue to fulfill the demands of the health service and the IDF, to provide blood units and components safely and at a high standard, to all those who require this treatment in order to save their lives,” she said.

In October 2021 the Health Ministry lifted a ban on blood donations from gay men, who were previously barred due to fears over transmission of AIDS.

In 2017, the Health Ministry lifted restrictions on blood donations from Ethiopian Israelis, also due to AIDS fears, which had been in effect since 1977.

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