Advocates and critics of pay-for-plasma clinics await Health Canada report
In the coming days, an expert committee convened by Health Canada is expected to release the results of a long-awaited report that could determine how blood plasma is collected in Canada.
B.C., Ontario, and Quebec currently do not allow payment for plasma donations; New Brunswick and Saskatchewan do -- and have allowed a private centres to set up shop.
Now, the rest of the provinces that have been mulling over the matter will finally be able to look to federal authorities for guidance.
For more than two years, Canadian Plasma Resources has been running a private plasma clinic in Saskatoon, along with a smaller, newer clinic in Moncton, N.B. The company pays donors $25 to $50 for each donation of plasma, which is the protein-rich watery fluid that comprises the majority of blood.
During a donation, the plasma is removed and the all red and white blood cells and platelets are returned back to the donor, leaving them ready to donate again within as soon as a week.
The plasma collected by the Canadian Plasma Resources clinics is then processed to turn it into medications such as immunoglobulins, to treat bleeding and immunodeficiency disorders, and then sold in Europe.
Barzin Bahardoust, the Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Plasma Resources, says his company has registered close to 3,000 donors at both facilities , and paid out about $400,000 to Saskatoon donors alone last year.
Bahardoust says he hopes the Health Canada report will also give the go-ahead for his company to expand and eventually open 10 clinics across Canada by 2021.
But Canadian Blood Services, the government-funded agency that normally collects blood and plasma in Canada, is worried that private clinics could lure away the volunteer donors it needs to maintain Canada’s blood and plasma supply.
“It has the real potential to disrupt our ability to collect blood and meet the needs of patients from blood donations,” Dr. Graham D. Sher, the CEO of Canadian Blood Services, told CTV News.
He says his agency is already having difficulty attracting donors in the 17-to-24 age category in areas where Canadian Plasma Resources exist, and he wants Health Canada to stop licensing any more private clinics -- until a review is completed of a CBS plan to collect more plasma itself.
Many have also raised concerns that private plasma clinics contravene the recommendations of the Krever Inquiry, which looked into Canada's blood supplies after thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C from tainted blood products in the late 1980s.
Bahardoust points out that the vast majority of the plasma products used on patients in Canada already come from paid donors. That’s because 85 per cent of the immunoglobulins and other plasma products used here come from U.S. companies that use paid donors.
“We think it’s hypocritical, the position of some of these provinces,” Bahardoust says.
“On the one hand, they pass legislation lablelled as the voluntary blood donation act, but on the other hand, they are sending taxpayers’ money to the U.S. to purchase products that are manufactured by paid donors.”
Bahardoust says his clinics provide jobs and tax revenues and are filling an ever-growing need for plasma, even if Canadian Blood Services won’t buy their products.
Kat Lanteigne, the executive director of BloodWatch.org, a safe blood advocacy organization, said the group’s biggest concern with paid plasma clinics in Canada is “that they are essentially a blood broker that is collecting plasma to sell on the international blood market they don’t actually anything to increase supply for Canadian patients.”
Lanteigne also said there are concerns with private plasma clinics because they don’t fall under the banner of Canada’s public health system.
She called it a “blood war.”
“It’s a national fight, and it’s a fight in every province in the country,” Lanteigne said.
“The stakes are incredibly high because if we do not win and protect our blood system now, we’ll lose it. It will be gone.”
In the meantime Canadian Blood Services, the government-funded agency, is asking the federal government and provinces to consider their own plan to boost plasma collection --collecting about 600,000 litres of plasma a year above and beyond the approximately 200,000 litres they do today.
“Canadian Blood Services has developed a business plan that really has the country achieving a balanced security of supply,” said Dr. Sher.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip