Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS
LGBT flag waves during Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade 2016

by Mara Vigevani

LGBT and Ethiopian groups praised a decision by Magen David Adom (MDA) on Wednesday to conduct a two-year pilot program to accepting blood donations from homosexuals and Ethiopian immigrants, saying the move was long overdue and would serve to rectify discrimination against both communities.

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Earlier in the day, the organization said it had made the decision following the development of new blood tests to detect viral infections such HIV 1 and 2, HTLV type 1 and 2, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis and West Nile virus.

“It was a frustrating situation for LGBT donors who wanted to donate blood because they were forced to lie about their sexual preferences,” said MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), the Chair of the Knesset Lobby for the LGBT Community. “This is another small step on the way to equality for the gay community… this is great news that will increase the pool of blood donations and thus help save lives in Israel,” she added.

The Israeli LGTB Community welcomed the decision of MDA, which they consider the result of their 20-year struggle.

“We are very happy we finally will have the possibility to donate our blood like everybody else, but we the decision is the result of a very long struggle. I hope we will not have to wait another 20 years for struggles we initiated in the last period,“ said Eran Globus, chairman of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.  He said the community would celebrate by holding a massive blood drive during the community’s pride parade in Jerusalem next summer, but also warned against attaching too much significance to the decision.

“I don’t believe the MDA decision indicates a change in government policy regarding our community. Still, I consider it a victory and another sign that Israeli society, which supports the community, is fed up with the conservative vision of the politicians.”

The decision is the culmination of a six-month campaign by Merav Ben Ari, the Israel Aid Task Force, MDA and Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association to lobby the Ministry of Health to change its regulations for accepting blood donations.

For years, Ethiopian immigrants, homosexual men and individuals who had visited countries with high rates of HIV infection were prevented from donating blood because testing their blood made the donations financially impractical.

Last June, the health ministry altered the policy, saying that members of the relevant populations could donate blood provided they had not had homosexual sex or visited HIV-affected areas during the previous 12 months.

To address the issue, Prof. Ayelet Shenar, MDA’s deputy director of blood services, said the plasma of the donated blood would be separated, frozen and stored in a special refrigerator for four months. At the end of this period, the donor would have to donate again. If the second donation did not show signs of infectious disease, the frozen blood would be released for use.

“It should be noted that this [two-step process] ensures a high level of safety since the donors’ blood was examined twice and found to be acceptable,” MDA spokesperson Zaki Heller said.

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