Jerusalem, 10 March 1996

BLOOD BANK: ALL DECISIONS REGARDING ETHIOPIAN BLOOD MADE FOR PURELY

(Communicated by Navon Commission)

"All of the decisions not to use blood donated by Ethiopians were made for purely medical reasons and were unrelated to ethnic or community affiliation. Our struggle is against the AIDS virus, since the risk is great and the disease is spreading. Although the Israeli situation is currently not acute, we need to make every effort so that the situation does not get worse," said Dr. Eilat Shinar, professional director of Magen David Adom’s blood bank, in her testimony to the Navon Commission investigating the issue of Ethiopian blood donations. She added that the recent demonstration by the Ethiopian community over this issue not only harmed the community itself, but Magen David Adom’s image as well, since donors began accusing the blood bank of racism. Dr. Shinar reported to the commission that the Health Minister has issued instructions to freeze Ethiopian immigrants’ blood donations. She rejected the claim that Ethiopian blood is the only type checked, and said that there are other risks and infectious diseases of which donors and those who receive blood must be wary.

Yisrael Yitzhak, a practical nurse and member of the Ethiopian community who works in Beilinson Hospital, in Petah Tikva, and lectures on AIDS issues, told the commission about his attempts at information activities within the community. He warned that there are not enough people who can explain this issue both within the community, and in the general population of Israel as well.

Professor Eran Dolev, Chairman of the Israel Medical Association’s ethics committee and former IDF Chief Medical Officer, said that, in his opinion, medical considerations must include not only medical- health factors, but the ethnic issue as well. According to him, those who made the decision not to use the Ethiopian immigrants’ blood donations were not sensitive to the ethnic issues involved, and decided to lie to the community. "I do not know of any situation where lying is permissible, except to save human life," Dolev said. He emphasized that it must be remembered that there are members of other immigrant communities in Israel who carry specific genetic traits and contagious viral diseases, that are not less dangerous than the AIDS virus. He suggested that these communities be included in medical-ethical considerations, rather than implementing a policy of lies.

Professor Noga Mani, director of Hadassah Hospital’s blood bank in Jerusalem and advisor to the Health Minister on the issue of immuno- hematology and blood transfusions, said that the list of infectious diseases transmitted through human blood is very long, and AIDS is only one of them. According to her, these include: hepatitis, malaria, tuberculosis and syphilis. Drug addiction, alcoholism and tattoos are issues regarding which donors are questioned and even given the option of invalidating themselves as donors.

IDF Chief Medical Officer, Brig.-Gen. Dr. Yehoshua Shemer also testified before the commission, and spoke about the IDF blood donation system. Closed testimony by Health Ministry Chief Epidemiologist Paul Slater was, upon his request, heard only before members of the commission.