Compensating donors for plasma is the only route to increase our domestic supply
Last week news broke that Canadian Blood Services (CBS) is seeking to partner with Grifols, the world’s largest blood plasma producer, to ramp up plasma collection in Canada, primarily through compensating donors for their donation. This is a major development, and one that should be celebrated.
For those who don’t know, blood plasma is the yellow liquid that houses our red and white blood cells. Donating plasma is more intrusive than giving blood, but once the plasma is extracted from the blood mix, the donor’s blood is recycled back into their body. Plasma is an incredibly valuable resource, and is used to make plasma protein therapies — medicines that treat burns, immune deficiencies, respiratory diseases and coagulation disorders, such as hemophilia.
Unfortunately though, our national collection system, which relies almost entirely on non-compensated donors, leaves our plasma supply in a state of perpetual shortage. Canada, under the current model, produces only enough plasma to meet 13.5 per cent of our national demand. In fact, we are so desperately short on plasma in Canada that 80 per cent of Canada’s plasma therapies are derived using plasma from American donors, who are compensated for their donations.
It would appear perfectly reasonable that we compensate plasma donors domestically, given that we rely on compensated donors from south of the border. What justification could there be to prohibit paid plasma in Canada while we so heavily rely on paid plasma from abroad?
Well, according to NDP health critic Don Davies, this move would “prioritizeprofits of Big Pharma over the well being of patients,” so much so that the NDP is calling on the Liberal government to block the partnership. Beyond the wild hypocrisy of wanting to ban paid plasma in Canada while importing paid plasma from the U.S., claims made by Davies were misleading.
As opponents of paid plasma often do, they cite the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s, and the Krever Inquiry. The blood scandal of the 1980s identified serious risks, which shouldn’t be played down, but those risks have been drastically cut with such new measures as heat treatment, filtration and treatment chemicals that are used to remove or render viruses inactive.
In fact, these treatment methods have eliminated HIV or hepatitis transmission caused by plasma products since the introduction of modern processing practices over 25 years ago. The claim that plasma from paid donors is less safe, or unsafe, is “categorically untrue,” according to Canadian Blood Services President Dr. Graham Sher.
Another common criticism of paid plasma, as echoed by Davies and the NDP, is that the introduction of compensation crowds out public blood donations, siphoning donors away from the public blood donor system and into the for-profit plasma system. Again, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that this is true. Research from Georgetown University’s William English and Peter Jaworski, examining whether the introduction of paid-plasma in Canada and the United States decreased blood donations overall, found no evidence of a decrease in blood donations but rather a small increase. These findings were also replicated in the Czech Republic and Germany, where donors are compensated for their donations.
To make matters worse, the NDP doesn’t want to stop at blocking CBS’s partnership with Grifols, it wants a national ban on paid plasma. In its words, to “protect and save lives.” But a ban on paid plasma in Canada would only exacerbate our current situation, one that CBS warned about as early as 2018. In its annual report, CBS stated that “we rely too heavily on a foreign supply of plasma to meet the immune globulin needs of patients in Canada. This degree of reliance is not only unsustainable, it puts patients at risk.”
Under no circumstances should Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party listen to the bloviations perpetrated by their NDP partners in Parliament. Doing so would further enshrine the status quo, which is ripe with hypocrisy, and underserves the patients who so desperately rely on these therapies. Compensating donors for plasma is the only route to increase our domestic supply. It is the right move.
Originally published here