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Blood Donation in Austria

March 14, 2011

Blood and blood products are qualified as drugs in Austria and are subject to strict controls under the Medicines Act and the Blood Safety Act. Ensuring high quality and safety of blood and blood products for donors as well as recipients is the aim of legislation at both national and EU level.

Each blood donation goes through a series of security tests. But above all, security starts with the donor who does not need to have a valid social security card, neither if she or he is an Austrian national or a foreigner. The identity is checked with the help of an official photo ID (eg passport, driving license etc.). For many years each blood donation has been registered centrally in the online blood donation data base of the Austrian Red Cross. In Austria, blood donation is being offered by donors voluntarily and free of charge (there are no financial incentives or subsidies).

Citizenship is not an automatic exclusion criterion for donating blood. There is no legislation that would prohibit foreign nationals with permanent residence in Austria to donate blood just like Austrian nationals might do. In principle, all healthy women and men from the age of 18 years are allowed to donate blood. But before each donation process there are health checks determining whether a person is suitable for donating blood or blood components. There is a strict process put in place to determine the donor suitability and to ensure that people who are not suitable will be excluded from donation. This could involve persons with prior health problems or persons that should not be admitted because of other reasons (eg. recent stays Malaria affected areas, during and shortly after pregnancy, etc.). General admission requirements are stipulated in the respective regulation (http://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=10011170&ShowPrintPreview=True).

When assessing the medical fitness of a potential donor the doctor firstly checks the person’s medical history, this conversation is then followed by an examination. Prior to the blood donation it is therefore particularly important to answer a series of questions by the doctor truthfully.

Before the actual blood donation the volunteer is asked to fill out a specific health questionnaire, the so-called “donor card”. In addition to personal information the form includes 42 questions on the health status and the medical history. These questions only serve to determine the suitability for donation and to ensure safety for the future blood beneficiary. Persons who donate blood frequently might only be asked to update the information that was given before the first blood donation and that might have changed since then. Before each donation a blood sample is taken from the fingertip or earlobe in order to check the amount of hemoglobin. It must be in a certain range, otherwise the donation is rejected. All data collected is kept strictly confidential and is subject to the Privacy Act.

Based on the directives of the competent ministry only donors should be accepted whose command of the German language at least allows them to read and understand the information material and the “donor card”. Blood donation organisations in Austria currently only offer information material and health questionnaires in German. Therefore it could be argued that factually people without adequate knowledge of German are not permitted to donate blood in Austria.

So far the Austrian Ombudsman Board did not receive a single complaint on that matter. However, it can be assumed that the Red Cross and other similar organisations would face significantly higher costs if they were obliged to use at least all official EU languages during the medical check prior to the blood donation. It can also be assumed that there might be a shortage of medical personnel covering this broad range of languages. In 2010 343 397 nationals of other EU or EEA states lived in Austria. The largest group however, 138 225 people, are German citizens with whom no language barriers exist. For all other groups, the degree of linguistic integration is factually decisive.

Regarding the issue of blood donation the Austrian Ombudsman Board is currently dealing with complaints by homosexual men who are automatically excluded from blood donation after having answered the question "Did you have sex with another man?" with yes. This is perceived by the potential blood donors as being discriminatory. The competent ministry has informed the Austrian Ombudsman Board that it awaits the results of a report by an EU expert Committee due in spring 2011 before taking any decision on an eventual adaptation.