The Magen David Adom (MDA) team that was collecting blood donations at the Knesset Wednesday was chased out of the building, after they refused to accept blood from MK Pnina Tamano-Shata of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
The team was acting on standard instructions from the Ministry of Health – which is headed by Yesh Atid Minister Yael German.
Much like health departments in the U.S., the Israeli health ministry’s instructions prohibit accepting blood from homosexual men, people who spent considerable time in the U.K., Ireland and Portugal in previous decades, and people who arrived in Israel from central Africa, South East Asia and the Caribbeans.
For her part, MK Tamano-Shata said she was not angry at the team that refused to take her blood, but at their instructions, which come from a higher place. She said she was happy to contribute as an IDF soldier and an elected official, why should she not be allowed to do the same when it comes to blood donations?
The answer is simple: because Africa has a high rate of infection with certain diseases, predominately HIV, and the health ministry is deposited with the responsibility to prevent diseased blood from spreading in the population. Public health systems typically draw very wide lines in attempting to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and the list of possible culprits is an example of a well thought out public health policy.
But in Israel, politics and policy easily mix. Tamano-Shata’s boss, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, attacked MDA for the terrible hurt they had caused. And Yesh Atid Health Minister Yael Garman quickly threw her office staff under the bus (let’s hope they won’t need a blood infusion), declaring it was “absurd” that, 25 years after their arrival in Israel, Ethiopian olim still may not give blood.
That is not exactly true. Of the estimated 120,000 Israeli Ethiopians, some 40,000 are eligible to donate blood, because they were born in Israel. Not to acknowledge this fact is a vicious and completely unfair attack on the Jewish State.
But forget Israel’s good name for now — the real danger is to Israel’s blood supply.
Another Yesh Atid MK quickly opened the floodgate to contamination, saying “there are sufficient technological tools with which it can be determined who is an acceptable donor and who isn’t. It is inconceivable that an entire population would be disqualified in a sweeping manner.”
That already borders on the criminal, in my humble opinion, because the purpose of public health policy is to avoid situations in which judgment regarding infectious diseases is left up to the individual healthcare worker in the field. Public health directives are by definition sweeping and stiff, because it only takes one error in judgment on the part of one worker to let a deadly virus into the blood supply.
Go back to the 1980s account of how fast the blood reserves in France and other Western countries went bad because people were not quick enough to plug the loopholes. Using politics to force the hand of professional healthcare administrators is suicide. I prefer 50 thousand Ethiopians who are insulted to the bottom of their souls over one casualty. And that’s how I expect my healthcare system to operate.
That great healthcare maven, President Shimon Peres, condemned the incident severely, declaring passionately that “it is forbidden to differentiate between bloods in the State of Israel, all Israeli citizens are equal.”