Health Canada is going to give Canadians the opportunity to express their views on paid plasma donations soon.
April 10 stakeholders selected by Health Canada took part in a round table discussion over the issue of increasing paid donation in Canada.
Health Canada is waiting for a report of that meeting before opening their website to feedback on this issue.
At present almost all blood donations in Canada are voluntary. However, the issue has generated headlines recently over a proposal by a private for-profit company to operate paid donation centers in both Toronto and Hamilton.
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) does admit that while all its collections are voluntary, it does also source plasma from the United States where the donations are both paid and unpaid.
In the 1980s Canada was importing blood products generated from paid donation at an Arkansas prison. While the US FDA banned use of prison blood in the United States, it had no problem approving it for export to other countries. Canada’s tainted blood scandal had its roots in those paid blood donations when it was found the Arkansas prison blood was infected with both HIV and Hepatitis C.
The present screening system for voluntary donors has been credited for making Canada’s blood system among the safest in the world. With paid donations, there is an incentive to misrepresent one’s health condition in that screening process. It also changes the culture of donation away from an act of citizenship to one of personal gain.
What has never fully been explained is why CBS was increasing imports of American plasma while at the same time closing down its own plasma collection centre in Thunder Bay due to what it referred to last year as a surplus of plasma. CBS tried to claim that they had a surplus of fresh frozen plasma, but still needed plasma for pharmaceutical products. The Thunder Bay operation had a history of providing both.
The World Health Organization has strongly recommended against paid donation, as has Canada’s own 1993 Krever Inquiry. Russia recently banned paid donation in the wake of the WHO’s recommendation. Russia also found itself paying for donations it had to later destroy.
Both Health Canada and CBS claim that paid donations are safe due to changing technologies, but we’ve heard this all before.
We just don’t know what’s around the corner.
One roundtable participant purportedly noted that nobody predicted in the 1970s that a virus from monkeys would travel the world through sexual contact and intravenous drugs. Today we are still dealing with AIDS.
Closer to home there was a time when it was believed the West Nile virus could not be transferred through blood product. It could. Before blood product could be tested for the virus, Canadian Blood Services initiated operation stockpile to increase donations prior to mosquito season.
The other question nobody can answer is what will the impact of for-profit paid donation centers be on Canadian Blood Services?
Will people continue to donate for free when a private company is willing to pay them $20 for each visit?
This question is very real in Russia where paid donations are coming to an end. There is fear in that country that the spirit of donation has been lost and that shortfalls could result.
We will all get our chance to have our say when Health Canada opens up its site to input on this issue. We’ll let you know when and where you can participate.