Defend public plasma and blood donation

Overview

The recent introduction of pay-for-plasma clinics in Canada poses a serious risk to the security of our blood supply and negatively impact the voluntary collection efforts.

Blood plasma is the first body part in Canada that has been allowed for sale. Canada is only the fourth country in the world to pay plasma donors. The payment of donors goes against the advice of major international health organizations like the World Health Organization, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, the European Blood Alliance and many others. It also goes against the advice of Canada’s Krever Inquiry which looked into ways to ensure that Canada never experienced a catastrophe like the 1980’s tainted blood scandal.

The Problem

Plasma is the straw-coloured portion of blood that is used in anti-clotting drugs for hemophiliacs. In February 2016, Health Canada gave an establishment license to a for-profit company to collect and reimburse this blood product and then to sell it possibly on the international market. The Saskatchewan for-profit clinic provides donors with a $25 gift card. This poses a serious risk to the safety and security of our blood supply. The same company has opened a second clinic in New-Brunswick.

In the early 1980s, Canadians learned that their blood supply had become tainted with HIV and Hepatitis C. Canadians lost faith in the blood collector at the time, the Red Cross, prompting the Federal government to create a new arm’s length agency, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) and authorizing them to implement the recommendations of Justice Horace Krever which require blood be collected by only non-remunerated, voluntary donors. Now, it is the goal of the World Health Organization and many other international health agencies to have 100% voluntary blood and plasma collection globally by 2020.

Canada is only the fourth country worldwide that allows the paid collection of plasma. In other countries with both collection methods there has been a noted drop in public, non-remunerated donations. CBS, the public agency charged with the safety and security of blood and blood products in Canada, is now noting a drop in public donations in Saskatchewan.

The Canadian Health Coalition remains concerned that Health Canada continues to abdicate its duty to regulate plasma in the public interest. Health Canada has the statutory duty to assess the safety of drugs, including blood, whole plasma and plasma products. Only Health Canada, and not any province or territory, has the legal authority to protect all Canadians from the inherent health hazards of plasma sourced from a population shown by research evidence to have higher rates of infection, that is, paid donors.

Private, for-profit plasma also poses a risk to vulnerable populations and communities. The for-profit company Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR) has set up an aggressive strategy to draw donors in need of financial assistance. CPR has established their clinics next to homeless shelters and methadone treatment centres, on streets rampant with payday loan centres and pawn shops. In Saskatoon, they advertise for donors above the urinals on university campuses.

CPR has said that they are looking for purchasers in Europe.  This will not increase the supply of plasma for Canadian use. Private, paid-plasma centres will take donors away from CBS and will sell the plasma on the international market, thereby decreasing the supply available to Canadians. Once plasma from Canada is sold internationally, trade agreement rules will make it difficult for Canada to stockpile plasma solely for national use and we will need to continue selling plasma to the highest bidder. In the event of another blood-borne virus, Canada will not be able to ensure we have enough supply for our own population.

Recent Update

In May 2018, the B.C. Government has passed a legislation to protect the security of blood and plasma supply by banning payment for their donations. Alberta, Ontario and Quebec have also banned remunerating blood and plasma donors. Health Canada’s Expert Panel on Immune Globulin Product Supply and Related Impacts in Canada released its report Protecting Access to Immune Globulins for Canadians on May 23, 2018, and as many public health advocates predicted, it failed to seriously consider the many concerns Canadians have with private, for-profit plasma collection. On May 29, 2018, Independent Senator Pamela Wallin introduced S-252 (Voluntary Blood Donations Act), a Senate public bill that proposes to ban nationally paid blood and plasma donations

The CHC is calling for:

  • Health Canada to revoke the establishment licenses granted to for-profit plasma collectors and safeguard our plasma supply.
  • Health Canada to use its statutory duty to regulate payment for plasma as a safety issue, recognizing that remuneration impacts the safety of the resulting plasma products. The decision to allow or disallow compensation clearly falls within Health Canada’s mandate to regulate the safety and quality of plasma products as drugs under the Food and Drugs Act.
  • Health Canada to work with Canadian Blood Services to develop a strategy to increase unpaid plasma clinics in
    Canada and move toward self-sufficiency in plasma supply.
  • Parliament to pass S-252 (Voluntary Blood Donations Act).

Take Action

  • Show your support for Bill S-252 (Voluntary Blood Donations Act).
  • Get informed by reading our mythbuster on paid plasma donation.
  • Support the national work of the Canadian Health Coalition on this file with a donation.

Further readings

Campaign material:

Documents obtained through Access to Information:

Communications with the Federal Health Minister & Health Canada:

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Canadian Health Coalition