It’s been almost two years since we stumbled upon a plan by a private for-profit company to open a series of clinics that would pay Canadian donors for plasma.
The last voluntary dedicated plasma collection center operated by Canadian Blood Services (CBS) had just closed its doors in Thunder Bay a week earlier in April 2012.
CBS has always maintained that there was never any connection between the two events. On the one hand CBS said they didn’t need the plasma generated from Thunder Bay, on the other a commercial company was being set up to exploit a world-wide demand for plasma to be manufactured primarily into intravenous immunoglobulin, used commonly to boost immunity during cancer treatments.
Such private companies are not that unusual in the world, but in Canada sensitivities remain particularly raw given the so-called “tainted blood” scandal. About 30,000 Canadians suffered the consequences of imported paid plasma into this country from the United States in the 1990s. We met one of the survivors as we protested the closure in Thunder Bay.
While CBS and others maintain the manufacturing process renders the plasma absolutely safe, the evidence is less clear. Given the wide dispersal, it may be very difficult to track disease transmission resulting from any tainted product. Experts maintain that IVIG is made from such large pools of plasma that it would be impossible to give total assurance that nothing could go wrong.
It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. In 1993-94 tainted IVIG resulted in significant numbers of patients acquiring hepatitis C in the United States despite advanced testing. In 2007 China had to scour their shelves of IVIG after product was also tainted with Hep C.
The Krever Inquiry recommendations remain a touchstone on this issue. Krever had recommended against paid donation of blood and plasma with rare and exceptional circumstances, such as paid plasma donation for rare blood types conducted by Winnipeg’s Cangene.
The fact that the small collection by Cangene has been used as the example of Canada’s acceptance of paid donation should be a warning that the public is being manipulated. Canadian Plasma Resources has plans to operate on a scale that would absolutely dwarf Cangene. They also admitted – as did CBS — that the private clinics would likely impact volunteer donations used in Canada’s blood system. Given significant blood shortages at the end of last summer, this is not an unimportant point.
Wednesday the Toronto Star editorial said Ontario was doing the right thing by banning paid plasma donation, noting both our national history of volunteerism and the question of trust arising from our prior experience with tainted plasma.
“It’s not enough for this supply to be safe – of course it must be,” the editorial states. “But saying so isn’t enough. People need to believe it’s clean, beyond even the faintest hint of doubt.”
The Star correctly notes the trust issue becomes a particular challenge when the company in question is bucking the government’s intended ban on paid donation and risks “being perceived as a corporate loose cannon.”
On Thursday first reading of legislation passed that will ban paid donation of blood and plasma in Ontario.
Despite the criticism of the government’s delay in introducing such legislation, we would urge all parties to give the Voluntary Blood Donations Act quick passage.
We would also ask our readers to urge Health Minister Deb Matthews and health critics France Gelinas and Christine Elliott to put aside partisan differences to ensure that confidence in our blood system remains intact.
Please feel free to use the sample letter below:
Dear (NAME OF MPP/MINISTER):
I would urge you to give swift passage to the Voluntary Blood Donations Act currently before the Ontario Legislature.
We remember the 30,000 Canadians who became infected through plasma purchased from paid donation in the United States during the 1990s.
At that time such plasma was approved for export by the U.S. FDA despite its dubious source – including paid donation from American prison populations. It has taken a long time to rebuild trust in our blood system.
By allowing paid plasma donation into Ontario, it sets a terrible precedent that could lead to others entering into the commercialization of our blood system.
The World Health Organization continues to advocate that countries work towards self-sufficiency in blood products using the principle of voluntary donation.
It’s time to do the right thing. Please pass this bill now.
Health Minister Deb Matthews
NDP Health Critic France Gelinas
PC Heatlh Critic Christine Elliott
Premier Kathleen Wynne
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath
PC Leader Tim Hudak
Other related stories:
Tainted – Play a timely intervention on the paid plasma issue
Health Canada consultation on paid plasma less than adequate
A major change in how we donate plasma
28 organizations call for policy review on for-profit plasma collection