Monday, December 16, 2013

Blood type

Whose blood is not good? It seems that the Magen David Adom (the Israeli Red Cross) had a drive collecting blood at the Knesset last week, when MK Pnina Tamanu-Shata came along and offered to donate blood. She was told by the technicians that her blood would be taken and frozen, but would not be included in the pool of blood that was being prepared for use in transfusions for surgery, etc. Why was this? Because she is Ethiopian, and in past experiences it has been found that the blood of Ethiopians contains various infective agents, including HIV. This is because of their origin in Africa, as well as the unhygenic conditions under which many of them lived there. As a result, the MDA issued a directive, that all blood donated by Ethiopians be separated from the general blood pool donations in Israel. Of course, immediaely MK Tamanu-Shats accused the MDA of racism, and as a result of the controversy the blood collection in the Knesset was stopped.

The question is, is this really a case of racism, or is this merely a technical issue whereby the MDA seeks to keep the national blood pool free from infective agents? The technicians at the Knesset were merely following the protocol that the MDA has used for several years. Of course, the MDA is neither a racist organization, nor are its directives racist. They do not restrict the collection of blood from black people per se, nor any other kind of race. They are merely being cautious in screening out donors that might infect the national blood supply.

These kind of exclusions have occurred before. For example, in the US and around the world there was a time when all homosexuals were forbidden to donate blood because ot the fear of the contamination with HIV. Now with the quick methods to analyze for HIV, these general exclusions are no longer necessary. Another example, residents of the UK between certain dates are forbidden to donate blood in Israel. This is because of the outbreak of "mad cow" disease in the UK and the possible transfer to humans, in Kreuzfeld-Jakob disease. Both of these diseases result in brain degradation and are fatal. Although many Brits living in Israel resent this exclusion, no-one would declare that it is racism against British people.

I presume that MK Tamanu-Shats would not criticize the use of profiling by Israeli security that prevents terrorists of likely origin from getting on Israeli airplanes, even though others might call this racist. I note that in the US, the American Red Cross uses profiling to protect the blood supply, but to protect their airports American security does not. Perhaps they should.


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