Equality Runs Blood-Deep For Israeli LGBT Community
Israel Removes Ban on Blood Donations from Men who have Sex with Men
Israel’s health ministry will soon allow blood donations from males who have sex with males (MSM), as part of a new initiative called “The Quarantine Plasma Protein Program,” set to begin in the second quarter of 2018. It reverses a previous policy that precluded accepting blood from MSM donors who had engaged in sexual intercourse in the preceding 12 months.
Given the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and the high prevalence of the disease among homosexuals a near-universal ban on blood donations was imposed on the cohort.
The new program was spearheaded by Israeli parliamentarian Meirav Ben-Ari (Kulanu party), Magen David Adom (MDA), and Israeli AIDS and LGBT advocacy groups. According to the revised policy, the MSM donor’s blood will be tested initially and then frozen for four months, during which it will go through the health ministry’s advanced screening methods.
“The blood of MSM donors will be processed like all other blood units, the only difference being that their plasma will go into quarantine for four months,” Dr. Einat Shinar, Director of Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) blood services, told The Media Line. “Afterwards, the individual donates again and if all his tests are negative for infectious diseases, the original frozen units can be released and supplied to hospitals for transfusion.”
Because of a greater demand for blood worldwide, coupled with advanced screening procedures, more countries are willing to accept MSM blood donations.
Dr. Paul Strengers, Executive Director of The International Plasma Fractionation Association (IPFA) explained to The Media Line that, globally, “the policy aimed at namely homosexuals was changed to Men who have Sex with Men when it turned out that not only homosexuals were engaging in risky sexual activity but heterosexual men having sex with men.” He further noted that “because of this measure, the risk of transmission has declined, with the last blood transfusion of HIV being thirty years ago, in 1990.”
Specifically, Dr. Strengers stressed the importance of advancements in screening methods, which for a long time was limited to serology, which tests only the appearance of a virus. “But now,” he elaborated, “we have nucleic acid testing which detects the presence of the virus itself. [Accordingly], it became clear that the window periods are not lifelong, allowing for approval of shorter [waiting] periods worldwide.”
Since MDA announced the new guidelines, the organization has received inquiries from not only the Israeli gay community, but from people and media outlets worldwide wanting more information. “Each country is exploring how to bridge [the gap] between the gay community’s participation and their mandate to ensure safe blood,” Dr. Shinar said.
The United Kingdom has the shortest waiting period before MSM blood can be transfused—three months. In the Netherlands it’s six months, whereas the United States and Australia have one-year delays.
Francis Tirres, a Jerusalem resident, said he was happy to hear about Israel’s new policy. “In the past, you couldn’t really flaunt or be gay, per say, in Jerusalem,” he told The Media Line. “Congratulations, it’s about time. I’m glad the discrimination is over.”
Nadav Schwartz, Community Coordinator of The Jerusalem Open House, a pro-LGBT organization, asserted to The Media Line that, “this the beginning—a small, small step towards equality in Israel, in which Men who have Sex with Men can also contribute.
“Every donation saves lives.”
(Daniella P. Cohen is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)