Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about my experience donating blood with the American Red Cross after finding out that Palestine had allegedly been removed from the organization’s database. The day after its publication, Director of Biomedical Communication Stephanie Millian responded with an explanation, which I will include in the following paragraph. But before I discuss the response, I want to clarify that the purpose of this reportage is to encourage the Red Cross to sidestep any attempts to normalize the occupation of Palestine by rejecting its existence, not to keep the Red Cross from accepting and utilizing blood donations that save hundreds of lives every day.
Here is Millian’s response:
Hi, I work for the American Red Cross in their biomedical services division. I am are sorry for your experience and are very appreciative that you stayed and donated blood, a truly lifesaving gift. I wanted to let you know that the American Red Cross uses the U.S. Government’s Health Information for International Travel reference tool as the source document to assess countries with a malaria risk. The guide does not include all countries in the world, but does include all countries with a malarial risk. There has been no recent change in the list and we apologize if our staff was mistaken about that fact. As you are aware and highlighted in your blog post, the Palestinian Red Crescent is a fully recognized member of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network. Thank you again for taking time to share the gift of life with others.
Stephanie Millian, Director of Biomedical Communication
American Red Cross
I spent some time doing research about the Health Information for International Travel source document that Millian cites and found that it is put together every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federally-funded public health agency in the United States. The document, more informally known as the Yellow Book, identifies a diverse array of global health risks and highlights all recorded instances of disease outbreaks with a special focus on malarial transmission. The American Red Cross uses this guide to update its database of international travel destinations which is then used to determine whether or not someone is eligible to donate blood depending on the countries they’ve visited within a certain time period of time.
Millian’s response suggests that the Red Cross’s database contains only those countries with a risk of malarial transmission. Countries that do not pose any malarial risks are not included. However, this makes little sense. As I related in the initial article, the Red Cross staff was instructed to report that I had traveled to Israel rather than to Palestine since Palestine could not be found in the database. I am forced to conclude that Palestine’s absence from the database indicates that the country poses no risk of malarial transmission.
However, the most current Health Information for International Travel document indicates that Israel poses no malarial risk as well. In fact, the 2010 edition of the Yellow Book found Israel to be just as safe from malaria.
No further inspection is necessary to realize the double standard. If Israel and Palestine are both free of any malarial risks, why is it that only Palestine’s name is absent from the list?
This is where the American Red Cross has an opportunity to shine. Although its databases are based on the U.S. government’s updates on global health, the Red Cross should put to work its own resources to examine the risk of malaria in Palestine so that it too can be included in the database. By leaving Palestine out, the Red Cross has logically already declared Palestine a safe travel destination, so based on my assessment of Millian’s claims, all that the Red Cross needs to do is include Palestine in the database’s index so that it reads “Palestine, no malarial risk” the way Israel, Canada, Bulgaria, and other countries are listed. Of course, this may read as wishful thinking, but for an organization that works so closely with the Palestinian Red Crescent, this is the least the Red Cross could do to respect and reinforce global health initiatives.
It also makes logical sense. When I travel to Palestine, I do not travel to Israel which is outside of the concrete walls, road blocks, checkpoints, race-based ID systems, military closures, and border sieges. To maintain Palestine’s absence from the list and to claim that it is because it poses no malarial risk (which, as I have shown, is clearly not a sufficient reason) is to reject the existence of Palestinian blood donors or the travel logs of people who’ve traveled to the occupied territories.
Sharing the gift of life is a two-way road. The CDC is the next level of outreach, but for right now, the American Red Cross has the privilege of setting the standard.