Blood donations to be accepted from foreign-born Ethiopians, gays and elderly

Ministry balancing protecting public and expanding pool of donors.

December 9, 2016 02:31
2 minute read.

Vacutainer blood bottles. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In a few months, the Health Ministry will implement a significant reversal in its long-established blood donation policy and will allow some Ethiopian immigrants, homosexuals and elderly people to donate blood.

It explained the change as resulting for new local and foreign epidemiological data and the improvement in medical technologies and risk assessment.

The policy change resulted from recommendations of a professional committee headed by Prof. Manfred Green, who is director of the global health leadership and administration program at the University of Haifa’s School of Public Health, other professionals and public representatives and ethicist Prof. Asa Kasher.

Yesh Atid MK Yael German, a former health minister, on Thursday immediately took credit for the change, noting that when in office, she had pushed for it.

For many years, Jews of Ethiopian heritage who were born here have been able to donate blood without limitation. However, those who were born in Ethiopia or if they spent over a year, since 1977, in a country where HIV was endemic, have been banned. It has also been forbidden for people of any origin over the age of 65 to give a first blood donation.

In a few months, the restrictions on Ethiopian immigrants who were born there will be dropped except those who spent over a year in an HIV-endemic country and less than a year has passed since they arrived in Israel. This criterion – forbidding donations from those who were in an HIV-endemic country less than a year ago, will soon be the same for all Israelis, whatever their country of origin.

The questionnaire filled out by all would-be donors about possible behaviors that could increase the risk of HIV infection such as homosexuality or intravenous drug use will be updated and be identical to those adopted by the US Food and Drug Administration and health authorities in Europe, the ministry said.

The tests for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus that will be used here are significantly more sensitive than the old ones, thus the “window” of infection will be narrowed to a few days between infection by a carrier and testing for these viruses.

As for those over 65 wanting to donate, the decision to accept their blood for a first donation will be decided on an “individual basis” and according to the medical condition of the applicant.

The ministry said that it will also boost donated blood safety by adopting in the future “pathogen inactivation” that damage the cell membranes or nucleic acids, so that treatment of blood products, thereby almost completely preventing the infection potential of bacteria or viruses to cause infections.

The efficacy of these approaches for blood components such as platelets and plasma has been proven for blood components, and there are commercial systems that were recently approved by the FDA and used in some 20 countries, the ministry said. A distinct advantage of using pathogen inactivation over the current approach is that it reduces the risk of infection as a result of the “window period” after infection with HIV.

The new policy, the ministry concluded, is in accordance with what is accepted in other developed countries and provides the “proper balance between protecting public health and the need for equity and the expansion of the pool of potential blood donors.”

Meanwhile, German welcomed the decision and said it was “better late than never.”

The recommendations had been presented to the ministry 18 months ago, she said, and there was no justification for the delay.

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