A group of safe blood advocates are calling on the province to block private “pay-for-plasma” companies from setting up shop in British Columbia, saying that the paid clinics are depleting national stores.
The group delivered messages to the Legislature from 6,000 B.C. residents on Tuesday calling for a ban on the clinics. Many were part of Blood Watch, a not-for-profit organization that advocates against the sale of blood and plasma partially to protect the Canadian Blood Services’ stock.
The group’s visit to the Legislature was prompted by a company called Canadian Plasma Resources, which advocates say is planning to open clinics in B.C.
Health Minister Terry Lake said the company has talked about expanding west, but he hasn’t seen any “concrete plans” that they will open a branch in the province.
The Saskatoon-based company pays eligible donors a rate between $25 and $100, depending on how many times they’ve donated, and how frequently donations are made. The first donation is unpaid, and serves to determine whether a donor is eligible.
But there are concerns that pay-for-plasma programs could be bad for those in need of blood. Andrew Cumming, a tainted blood survivor, hopes the premier will reconsider and end support for commercial blood brokers.
“Allowing a for-profit multinational company to compromise the security and safety of our blood system is unacceptable,” he said.
Cumming started his fight against pay-for-plasma clinics years ago in Ontario, after contracting HIV and Hepatitis C through tainted blood. He went public with his HIV status in order to “have the moral authority to say the things I’m saying now,” which is that he thinks privatized blood clinics are a bad idea.
He was one of 30,000 Canadians infected with HIV in the 80s after receiving transfusions of blood and plasma drugs that were improperly tested.
“I’ve lost a hundred friends in this crisis,” he said.
“There’s technology to screen for diseases we know about. It’s precisely the ones we don’t know about that are going to kill the next 5,000 people in Canada.”
He’s a the co-founder and treasurer of Blood Watch, a group that is outspoken about its opposition to blood brokers because they compete directly with Canadian Blood Services.
Safe blood advocates warn that programs like CPR’s can draw donors away from voluntary programs like CBS, and the plasma collected is sold on the international market so the Canadian stores are not being replenished.
CBS has said it will not buy materials collected by CPR, meaning any plasma collected for making drugs is then sold to facilities outside of Canada. Once private clinics export the plasma, “there is no way to know whether it will come back to Canada,” Blood Watch says.
“B.C. needs to work hand in hand with our national blood operator to help get our donations to people who need them, not support a company that draws donors away from our system in order to make a profit overseas,” said BC Health Coalition campaigner Adam Lynes-Ford.
The health minister said he doesn’t want to do anything to harm CBS’s ability to increase voluntary donations, but “I still say we have to make sure those products are available to keep people alive.”
Earlier this month, Canadian Blood Services said it would be monitoring the practices closely, acknowledging that there are some countries in which paid and voluntary plasma donation can “safely exist.”
CBS said it does recognize that drugs made from plasma donated by paid donors are just as safe as those made from plasma donated by volunteers. It also said access to paid plasma is “essential” in ensuring that Canadian patients continue to receive the lifesaving treatments they need.
Plasma is collected for use in transfusions or protein products. CBS says it only collects enough plasma to meet about 25 per cent of the demand for the product highest in demand, immune globulins. The remaining amount needed to make the drugs currently comes from paid donors in the U.S.
All donors, paid or volunteer, must meet specific criteria and their donations are thoroughly tested. Drug manufacturers also use technology that eliminates viruses, CBS said.
Private blood and plasma collection has been banned in Ontario and Quebec. CBS said it’s in ongoing talks with governments and expects an update in the spring.
Author: Kendra Mangione