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Austrian Red Cross in hot water after ‘rejecting’ blood donations from Muslims

Published time: February 14, 2014 16:11
Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez

Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez

Austria's Red Cross has come under fire from the local Islamic community after one of its doctors reportedly refused to accept blood donations from Muslims or donors of Turkish origin due to the risk of Hepatitis B.

Austria-based charity group for Austrian Muslims, the IRG foundation, which has been campaigning to donate blood, reported on its website a Red Cross doctor from Linz, Austria’s third-biggest city, refused over the phone to accept blood donations “from Muslim or Turkish donors” including those born in Austria. The Islamic Religious Community of Linz has been outraged by the decision, which sparked religious prejudice concerns.

According to IRG foundation chairman Murat Baser, as cited by the Muslim-focused WorldBulletin.net, when a similar campaign was run by the charity last year, it was fully supported by Red Cross.

Following the incident, the director of the Red Cross in Linz, Christian Gabriel, told daStandart.at online portal that the doctor who has communicated with the Islamic religious community, “in no case had discriminatory intent.” He stressed there is no religious requirement for blood, with the only key factor being that the donor is healthy.

Gabriel explained that they already had some experience with various cultural organizations from the South Eastern European region and “de facto, all went wrong with these collaborations. In some blood drives, we found a hepatitis B prevalence of over 40 percent."

Gabriel said that “in the second and third generation migrants can already look different,” and a person who since birth was monitored by the Austrian health care system is much less likely to have Hepatitis B antibodies in their blood. He pointed out that in this case the problem is mostly ethical for cultural association fundraisers, who would have to tell families who come to donate blood that not all of them can do that.

The head of the Vienna Blood Donation Center, Eva Menichetti, explained in an interview with the APA news agency, that anyone who was born or grew up in hepatitis B zones is excluded from blood donation, as well as those who lived in the areas where malaria is spread. She stated that when the second-generation members were not accepted, this was "a misunderstanding.” It was stated that admission to donate blood had nothing to do with religion or culture, but with the place of birth.

It's not the first time blood donations have raised public concerns. In December, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, Magen David Adom, refused to accept a blood donation from an Ethiopian-born Knesset member during a blood drive outside parliament. According to an MDA statement, under existing Israeli law Pnina Tamano-Shata couldn’t give blood because she lived in Ethiopia for the first three years of her life and was "potentially exposed to pathogens that could put recipients of blood donations at increased risk."

Tamano-Shata, a member of parliament for the centrist Yesh Atid party, argued that the rejection was “further proof that ‘equal rights’ for Ethiopians in Israel is a nice slogan that doesn’t exist in reality,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. "I'm 32, I arrived in Israel at the age of three, did my military service and have two children. There's no reason to treat me in this way," she told Channel 10 television. Magen David Adom officials later agreed to take Tamano-Shata's blood, but only to freeze it.