Magen David Adom blood drive. .
(photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
A year after dropping most restrictions on blood donations from Ethiopian immigrants, the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom have decided to allow men who have had sexual relations with another man to donate blood, even if 12 months has not passed since the encounter.
It is all part of an effort to increase willingness among members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to donate blood, while at the same time protecting the safety of the blood supply. MDA blood services worked with MK Meirav Ben-Ari, the Israeli Aids Task Force and Israel’s LGBT Task Force to find a way to enable such individuals to give blood.
Beginning in April, MDA will launch a pilot program to allow men who have had sex with other men to become blood donors. MDA director-general Eli Bin called the move “an important step.”
The move was made possible by significantly more sensitive tests that screen for HIV and can identify infection soon after it occurs, thus preventing blood infected by the AIDS virus from entering the public blood supply.
According to the plan, when blood from such individuals is collected, the plasma will be separated, frozen and kept in cooled quarantine for four months. At the end of that period, when the donor returns to donate blood and all tests of the new donation are negative for infectious diseases that may be transmitted by transfusion, the frozen units will be approved as treatment for patients. Under these conditions, the safety of such units will be ensured, since donors get checked for eligibility twice – during the initial donation and prior to transfusion – thereby making sure safety isn’t compromised.
This process will be explained in a questionnaire given to blood donors and a question added to the questionnaire. Attitudes on the issue among men in the LGBT community were researched in an online survey conducted in 2017. Results showed 65% of respondents expressing interest in the new mechanism. The Health Ministry accepted the recommendation of its consulting committee on such transfusions and decided to implement the program with MDA for two years, after which a follow-up study will be done.
Israel will now be joining the US Food and Drug Administration and health authorities in Europe by adopting the blood-donation practices.
Ben-Ari, chairman of the LGBT lobby, helped MDA in leading the initiative: “I am happy to take part in the solution of the issue of blood donation from the LGBT community. For years, there was a frustrating situation in which LGBTs could not donate blood, and when they did, they had to lie about their sexual orientation. Today, this is an important historic step toward equality, and I have had the opportunity to assist in finding the solution. I commend Eli Bin and the ministry for their important decision. This is great news for the community that will enlarge the blood bank and help save lives in Israel. I will continue to operate towards assisting the community in any field necessary.”
MDA blood services director Prof. Eilat Shinar added: “I would like to thank the professional experts in transfusion medicine and prevention of infectious diseases, representatives of the LGBT community and the Israeli Aids Task Force for their excellent collaboration in preparing the new procedure. This activity, in addition to the revamping of tests conducted on blood units for the identification of diseases that may be transferred by transfusions, enables a bridge between protecting the safety of blood units and the willingness of the LGBT community to take part in saving lives.”
Chen Ariely, chairman of the Israeli LGBT Task Force, said: “The constant refusal to receive blood donations from male members of the LGBT community, and their requirement to lie, was an insult, but it has come to end. Over 1,500 members of the community took part in discussing a temporary solution and expressed support, until the integration of a component that would enable everybody to donate blood. This initiative positions Israel as one of the most advanced countries in the world in this field and we commend this important step toward equality.”
The reversal in Health Ministry policy began a year ago, when the ministry said it would l allow some Ethiopian immigrants, homosexuals and elderly people to donate blood.
For many years, Jews of Ethiopian heritage who were born here have been able to donate blood. However, those who were born in Ethiopia or who spent over a year since 1977, in the country where HIV was endemic, have been banned. It has also been forbidden anyone over the age of 65 to give a first blood donation.
The restrictions on Ethiopian immigrants who were born there were dropped, except those who spent more than a year in that country and less than a year since in Israel.