The tainted blood scandal was the worst public health disaster in Canadian history. In the 1980s and 1990s, more than 30,000 Canadians became infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. This was due to government and bureaucratic failure to protect the blood supply. Tainted blood killed thousands. People are still dying from it today.
In 1997, the Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Horace Krever issued 50 recommendations to keep Canada’s blood and blood products safe. Public safety, Krever said, depended on five principles:
- Blood is a public resource
- Donors should not be paid
- Canada should be self-sufficient in blood
- Access to blood and blood products should be free and universal
- Safety of the blood supply system is paramount
Canadian Blood Services (CBS), a nonprofit organization, was formed as a result of the tainted blood scandal. The CBS’s sole mission is to manage blood and blood products for Canadians (outside of Quebec). It is based on the recommendations of the Krever Inquiry.
But the federal government has violated Krever’s principles by granting a license to a for-profit company named Exapharma/Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR). It wants to pay blood donors in Saskatchewan. Plasma extracted from this blood would be exported. The clinic opened for business today.
In 2014, Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR) tried to open three private blood-collection clinics in high-risk areas in Ontario. After a public outcry, the provincial government shut down the clinics and passed legislation to ban private plasma collection. (Quebec already had similar legislation.)
“The proliferation of private blood clinics in Canada would compound a three-decade tragedy and shatter the efforts made by those brave Canadians who fought to make our blood system safer,” says activist Kat Lanteigne, author of Tainted, a play about the blood crisis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) wants all profit-motivated plasma donations to end by the year 2020. There is too much risk in paid-plasma programs. WHO makes its persuasive case for a purely voluntary system in Towards 100% Voluntary Blood Donation: a global framework for action.
It is well documented by the European Blood Alliance’s (EBA) report in 2013 and by WHO that paying blood donors endangers the safety of the blood supply. Paying for blood draws donors away from our voluntary system. Paying donors attracts higher risk donors. They often lie about their health status to get the money.
In Europe, as reported by the EBA, German blood brokers bussed in poor donors from Poland. The practice has recently been restricted because the blood and plasma show higher infection rates.
In the United States, the economic collapse of 2008 generated a boom in for-profit blood companies. In Flint, Michigan, 100,000 people have been exposed to lead poisoning and legionnaire’s disease via contaminated water. Yet the publicly traded Grifols Company has not closed its paid-plasma centre in the area. It won’t until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shuts them down.
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) would never allow Flint residents to donate into a public supply. Not only are they high-risk donors, but they have compromised health and should not be allowed to donate.
Canada is self-sufficient in fresh plasma. Fresh plasma is used in the treatment for cancer patients and burn victims. We can’t afford to have competition in any collection because we will lose donors to our voluntary system. And that could risk the lives of Canadians.
Health Canada must reverse its decision and ban for-profit blood collection.
The chief executive officer of CBS has assured the public that everyone is getting the blood they need. If a shortage were to occur, CBS has the ability to collect more.
Some suggest that blood testing has progressed to where tainted blood can easily be identified. But the new Zika virus has proven once again how fragile our blood supply is.
Please add your name to the petition to demand the federal government ban private blood collection in Canada.