CBS: Can we please learn some lessons here?

You may have seen this story before.

Recently Canadian Blood Services said it was increasing imports of “surplus” plasma from the United States, assuring us it is FDA approved.

In 2009/10 CBS imported 10,000 units. In 2010/11 it was doubled to 20,000 units.

In the 1980s the U.S. FDA also approved shipments of plasma product to Canada and other countries around the globe.

While the U.S. FDA was happy to approve the export of this product in the 1980s, they wouldn’t allow it for U.S. use since 1984.

Why? It came from an Arkansas prison, where HIV and Hepatitus C was widespread among inmates.

Arkansas was one of the few U.S. states that did not pay inmates for the work they performed in the corrections system. However, selling their blood was considered a legitimate way to make money in prison that was “considered acceptable to the citizens of Arkansas” according the Arkansas Times. And of course, the Arkansas Department of Corrections took their cut of the revenue.

When this blood was sold around the world – including here in Canada — it created a tainted blood scandal that took the lives of thousands of innocent victims.

One of the plasma products that we regularly purchase today from the U.S. is intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). Canada has amongst the highest use of IVIG the world. A plasma based product, it is used to boost the immunity of cancer patients during treatment. Only 25 per cent of the plasma used to produce IVIG is from Canada.

Above: Bill Mauro MPP speaks at the rally in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

Baxter Corporation is one of the companies that produces IVIG for Canadian Blood Services. It is a small amount of the supply – about 12 per cent last year.

We are told that this product is safe.

However, in 2008 Baxter was at the center of the heparin contamination scandal that also took the lives of 81 users and led to 785 severe allergic reactions.

The problem is Baxter, a global company, was getting ingredients for heparin from China. The FDA found the drug was contaminated with oversulfated chondroitin sulfate, which mimics heparin and wasn’t detected in tests on the product.

Baxter’s president told the United Press “the complexity of the global drug supply chain creates new and emerging risks that call for new ways of thinking about, identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, and that resting on old standards – even ones that have worked for decades – is no longer enough.”

In Thunder Bay on Wednesday we met one of the victims of the Arkansas prison blood scandal. Frail and elderly, he was there to show his opposition to Canadian Blood Services’ plan to close the Thunder Bay Plasma Donor Clinic and import U.S. plasma.

While the Thunder Bay facility generated 10,800 units of plasma a year, CBS said they no longer needed it — especially when you are importing 20,000 units from south of the border.

CBS maintains demand is down, but then why did they just double imports of U.S.-sourced plasma?

Bill Mauro, a Liberal MPP from Thunder Bay, said CBS’ rationalization for the closure of the clinic didn’t pass the sniff test.

Canada has one of the safest blood systems in the world thanks to the work of the Krever Commission. Canadian Blood Services was created in response to the scandal that actually began with imported U.S. FDA plasma product.

Now CBS want us to trust this product again while turning their back on a Canadian supply that they themselves have diligently screened at point of collection.

While in Canada you can’t donate blood if you have a tattoo, clearly paying desperate people for their blood is still acceptable in the U.S. despite warning flags thrown up by the World Health Organization.

Clearly the health ministers that are the defacto shareholders of Canadian Blood Services cannot be happy about this.

In 2004 they expressed concern about Canadian content in IVIG. They set a plan in motion that would increase Canadian content from 24 per cent to 40 per cent by 2008. In 2012 Canadian content is at 25 per cent.

CBS says the American plasma is “surplus,” but for how long? What happens when and if it is no longer “surplus” and we’ve closed down our infrastructure for collecting Canadian-based product?

That test may come soon. The American Red Cross in Michigan is presently on strike and blood supplies are already low in the Great Lakes region.

CBS says their IVIG contracts require the providers to stockpile supply, and they themselves maintain sufficient quantity to buffer demand. In a recent letter to hospitals they state “disruptions to scheduled deliveries due to product recalls, manufacturing problems or other events cannot be forecasted.”

Demand for IVIG went up by 9 per cent last year. It is expected to go up by a similar amount this year.

While telling us the demand for plasma-based product is down when in fact it is up, CBS expects us to trust them.

Would you?

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