The current debate over paid plasma donation has brought out a number of patient groups – including those funded by big-pharma – that are suggesting Canada has no choice but to pay for plasma donation owing to a world-wide shortage.
Given Canadian Blood Services has been emphatic about sufficient supply on the world market, this is a rather curious claim.
If you go to the home page of Alpha 1 Canada (which is funded by Kamada, Grifols, and GlaxoSmithKline, among others) there is no mention of their members having difficulty obtaining existing plasma–based products.
So what changed, other than lobbying by Canadian Plasma Resources?
In fact one of Alpha 1 Canada’s sponsors, Grifols, just opened a new fractionation plant in Spain that will double capacity in that country and assist in increasing their world-wide output from 9.6 million litres to 12 million litres of fractionated plasma by 2016. Grifols accounts for 20 per cent of the world market for plasma-based pharmaceuticals.
We have to ask where these same patient groups were when we were advocating to maintain the last voluntary dedicated plasma collection centre in Canada in April 2012? At the time CBS was closing the Thunder Bay site claiming they didn’t need the 10,000 units of plasma (while they were increasing the importation of American plasma).
That plasma collection clinic was set up to be able to provide both fresh frozen plasma as well as send plasma to the U.S. for fractionation into the pharmaceutical products that Alpha 1 Canada is now so worried about.
Not a peep from these people back in 2012.
Instead of relying on the self-interest of large pharmaceutical companies, Ontario politicians should look to what the World Health Organization has to say on the issue.
Blood donations are up in the world. The WHO notes that 107 million blood donations were collected globally in 2011. That’s an increase of almost 25 per cent since 2004. Almost half of that total comes from high-income countries.
That includes an increase of 7.7 million blood donations from voluntary unpaid donors. According to the WHO, 71 countries collected over 90 per cent of their blood supply from voluntary unpaid blood donors, and 60 of those countries collected 100 per cent of their supply voluntarily.
As for plasma-derived medicinal products, 41 of 151 countries produce plasma-derived products through fractionation of plasma collected in the country. 32 of 41 countries report plasma fractionation carried out within the country. Nine of 41 countries report plasma sent for contract fractionation in another country.
The question is: why does Canada – one of the wealthiest countries on the planet — not even try to be one of them?
The World Health Assembly resolution WHA63.12 urges all member states to develop national blood systems based on voluntary non-remunerated blood donation and work towards the goal of self-sufficiency.
These groups continually maintain that the fractionation process has been safe, but there have been recalls of intravenous immunoglobulin (derived from fractionated plasma) in the world. FDA recalls of biological products are so common you can check them out for yourself by clicking here.
In 2007, according to Agence France Presse, “Chinese regulators halted sales of intravenous immunoglobulin products from Guangdong Bioyee Pharmaceutical, citing an unspecified number of patients given the products who became infected by hepatitis C virus (HCV).” We are told this is not supposed to be possible through the fractionation process.
Justice Horace Krever, examining Canada’s tainted blood scandal, was clear: “action to reduce risk should not await scientific certainty. When there was reasonable evidence that serious infectious diseases could be transmitted by blood, the principal actors in the blood supply system in Canada refrained from taking essential preventative measures until causation has been provided with scientific certainty. The result was a national public health disaster.”
The RNAO, in their own submission to Health Canada, note that the Campbell Inquiry looking at Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) credited the actions of Vancouver General Hospital in preventing the spread of the disease. Campbell stated that SARS was “contained so effectively” given they were “so steeped in the precautionary principle.”
Deb Matthews said herself in the legislature that Canadian Plasma Resources plans to sell what they collect on the international market. CBS has already said they have no intention of buying plasma from CPR. That does not place any guarantee for Alpha 1 Canada or any of the pharma-backed patient advocacy groups that they will have any more access to these products than they presently do now.
Given that there is nothing to be gained by licensing CPR, what is the offset on the potential negative impacts from introducing paid plasma collection? That includes an acknowledged siphoning of donations away from Canadian Blood Services as well as increased risk to the quality and safety of supply.
As recently as 2012 the WHO issued its expert consensus statement in which it noted “blood, plasma and cellular blood components, and other therapeutic substances derived from the human body, should not be considered as mere ‘commodities’. … “The availability and safety of the supply, the safety of both donors and recipients and the appropriate use of blood, plasma and components is an ultimate expression of community and citizen participation in the health system.”
Ontario politicians are playing for time on this issue. A snap election could kill the present bill banning paid donation of blood and plasma product and leave us with the unthinkable as the default.
This cannot happen. Please contact your MPP now.
Sample letter and e-mail addresses 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
Will act banning paid blood and plasma collection die in committee?