Ministry lifts ban on Ethiopian blood donations

Move to accept blood from immigrants from Ethiopia comes after charges of racism and brings Israel into line with western nations

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

The violent protest over blood donations in January 1996 (photo credit: Flash 90)
The violent protest over blood donations in January 1996 (photo credit: Flash 90)

The Health Ministry announced on Thursday that it will end a controversial, long-standing ban on blood donations from Ethiopian-born Israelis, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

The change will remove immigrants from Ethiopia from a ministry list prohibiting the use of blood from people who were born or lived for more than a year in HIV-prevalent regions. These include sub-Saharan Africa (except South Africa), Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.

It will bring regulations into line with those of other western countries.

The new rules will also allow homosexual and bisexual men to give blood for the first time, on the condition that they have not had gay or bisexual sex for a year.

The ban on using blood from Ethiopian-born Israelis came to light in 1996 when the Ma’ariv newspaper revealed that samples from the community were being routinely destroyed by the Magen David Adom emergency services, which manages the national Blood Bank.

The revelation prompted riots and a public inquiry and the issue has remained an open sore for the Israeli-Ethiopian community ever since.

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata. (photo credit: Flash90)
MK Pnina Tamano-Shata. (photo credit: Flash90)

In 2013, MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, then a Yesh Atid Party lawmaker, was turned away from a special blood drive held at the Knesset, even though she had lived in Israel since the age of three.

The blood ban will continue to apply to people who have spent more than a year in Ethiopia and have been in Israel for less than 12 months since then.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said after the announcement, “In a correct decision, today saw the cancellation of institutionalized racist policies against the Ethiopian community in Israel that have lasted for more than three decades.”

“I welcome the decision by [Health] Minister Litzman to repair the injustice to the Ethiopian community, which has a major and significant role in the mosaic of the Jewish people,” he added.

Israelis of British origin who were living in the UK between 1980 and 1996 are also banned from giving blood in Israel, due to fears of contagion with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (the human form of the “Mad Cow” epidemic), which was prevalent then.

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