Paid plasma industry is threatening Canada’s blood supply: panel
On July 25, the Canadian Health Coalition hosted a webinar with experts and advocates on the growing threat to Canada’s blood supply from corporations making huge profits from buying and selling plasma.
Dr. Michèle Brill-Edwards is a long-time board member of the Canadian Health Coalition, former senior Health Canada regulator and whistle-blower on drug and blood safety and semi-retired emergency physician in Ottawa. She reminded the audience that plasma products are more valuable than gold.
“Plasma is not just a liquid, it has very valuable healing proteins, that are both financially and medically very valuable,” said Dr. Brill-Edwards.
Dr. Brill-Edwards then explained how a for-profit industry has grown up around collecting only plasma. She expressed concern that Canada’s cooperation with the paid plasma industry has put the voluntary blood system in jeopardy.
Kat Lanteigne, co-founder of BloodWatch.org, explained that there is a divergent view among patient groups; some are ongoing plasma users and support the paid plasma industry while other patient groups are opponents, founders of her organization who are also survivors of the 1980s/1990s tainted blood scandal.
By allowing the paid plasma centres to gain a foothold in the country, Lanteigne says that Canada is allowing the industry to control our blood supply and patient needs are sacrificed in a market-driven environment.
“It is true that there is a challenge with plasma supply around the world because countries were essentially buying cheaper product from an industry that exploits. Eighty per cent of the plasma that is collected in the U.S. is from vulnerable populations, poor and abject poor,” said Lanteigne.
“When you based plasma collection on patient need, you can manage your supply chain, you can manage cost… and you don’t get buckled under the market demand because you have become self-sufficient,” said Lanteigne who said that it is a myth that for-profit plasma can lead to self-sufficiency in plasma supply.
“Every single international body in the world, the European Blood Alliance, the WHO or the International Society of Blood Transfusion has taken the position that countries around the world need to increase their supply of plasma through the voluntary system. It protects the donors. It ensures that the donor and donor health are integrated in our health system. It makes trace back for donors transparent and easily accessible. It ensures that the donor is not being exploited,” argued Lanteigne.
Daniel Légère, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, organized against the opening of Canadian Plasma Resources paid plasma centre in Moncton in 2016. Panelists learned that paid plasma centres have since opened in more cities in the provinces of New Brunswick, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“Unfortunately we were not able to stop the Moncton clinic from opening. However, I believe that what we were able to do was delay the opening of clinics,” said Légère.
“At the end of the day, these are political decisions,” said Légère who encouraged political action to stop governments from allowing these paid plasma centres from operating in our communities.
Canadian Health Coalition recently supported a letter-writing campaign organized by BloodWatch to Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones requesting that Ontario’s Voluntary Blood Protection Act be upheld.
Following the webinar, Dr. Brill-Edwards spoke with CBC’s All in Day, a popular radio show in Ottawa. Dr. Brill-Edwards told the host that there are plans for two dozen more paid plasma centres in the country.
“What we are worried about is that there is a growing global demand for plasma and that is drawing in a very large number of multinational operators that could easily, if they are allowed, outcompete the voluntary system in Canada,” said Dr. Brill-Edwards.
The Canadian Health Coalition, Bloodwatch.org and the New Brunswick Federation of Labour are working together on disseminating resources to people wanting to protect Canada’s voluntary blood supply.
Watch for more webinars by the Canadian Health Coalition in the future. To suggest a webinar topic, email Tracy Glynn at email@example.com.