2012 protest in Thunder Bay against the closure of CBS’ plasma clinic. Health Canada claims — without any evidence — that self sustainability in blood products in impossible under a volunteer system, but we’ll never know if CBS continues to downsize its operations.
The Ontario Tories recently have appeared to be distancing themselves from some of the more unpopular positions adopted by the party under Tim Hudak.
Voting for second reading of an Act intended to close the door on paid collection of blood and blood components by the private sector, the Tories n one-the-less seem incapable of parking their ideology at the door as Bill 21 finds its way into committee.
For two days the committee is conducting hearings into the legislation, seeing a parade of mostly private sector lobbyists lined up on one side and mostly family and survivors of Canada’s last tainted blood scandal on the other. Each presentation was limited to five minutes, followed by three minutes for each party to ask questions. In the case of the Tories, that three minutes was frequently used to make their own case that somehow we can’t do anything in this province without the involvement of private corporations.
David Harvey, a lawyer who represented patient groups at the 1990s Krever Inquiry, made the point the legislative committee was trying to come to a decision in just two days of public hearings over an issue that took Justice Horace Krever four years to resolve. By contrast, the Krever Inquiry included 247 days of public hearings by 474 witnesses, testimony and submissions filling 50,000 pages and another 100,000 pages of exhibits. Even former Premier Mike Harris admitted the Krever report was “detailed, it was exhaustive and it was complete.”
Yet the Tories appear to be siding with the private lobbyists as they toy with the idea of reversing one of Krever’s key recommendations – that paid collection of blood and blood components be banned except in rare circumstances.
It’s been more than two years since we said goodbye to the staff and donors of Canadian Blood Services’ Thunder Bay plasma collection centre. October 30 we will be returning there again as part of a unique cross-province campaign to keep our blood system safe.
OPSEU is proud to sponsor the upcoming tour of Tainted by playwright Kat Lanteigne. A performed reading of the play will take place in seven Ontario cities October 18-30: Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Windsor, Kingston, and Thunder Bay. All readings will be free to the public, but tickets should be reserved in advance. It will also be performed directly at Queen’s Park and in the center block of the Canadian Parliament to MPPs, MPs and their staff. Those attending the Ontario Health Coalition Action Assembly weekend will also be treated to a performance of the play on the evening of Saturday, October 18.
To secure a seat, please go to http://moyotheatre.com/tainted-tour/
Tour dates and locations are at the end of this post.
Behind the issue
In 2012 CBS said it had a surplus of plasma and no longer needed the Thunder Bay clinic which collected more than 10,000 units per year. We noted at the time that CBS coincidentally was increasing its imports of plasma from the United States by 10,000 units. That includes plasma from individuals who were paid for their donation, a practice that remains controversial.
We were in for another surprise shortly after CBS shuttered its Thunder Bay clinic.
When it comes to collection of plasma for pharmaceutical purposes, Canada appears to be on the verge of becoming more like the United States. That may not be a good thing.
The private for-profit Canadian Plasma Resources has a plan to operate paid plasma donations centers across Canada that would compete for donors with the volunteer Canadian Blood Services.
They have recently set up an Astroturf group with several patient groups that are backed by big pharma. The Ontario Plasma Coalition has even registered as a third party advertiser for the Ontario Election.
There is no question that the lobby efforts are on to stop the new government from reintroducing a bill that would prohibit paid plasma and blood donation in the province.
The last bill died when the election was called in May. Originally it had all-party support although the Tories appeared to be wavering just prior to the election call.
Now The Atlantic magazine has published its own expose of the state of plasma donation in the United States.
Written from the perspective of a “plasser” – a twice-weekly paid donor – it tells the story of desperate people who lie and seek means to deceive screeners in order to get payment for their plasma. It also talks about the donor’s own health being placed at risk through such frequent visits.
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.
All the election talk raises the question of whether the opposition parties will pull the plug on the present minority government before passage of a bill that will ban paid plasma collection in the province.
The Voluntary Blood Donations Act 2014 was referred to the legislature’s Standing Committee on Social Policy after it passed second reading April 14.
The question is, will the parties drag the Act out in committee to an inevitable death, or will they push it back quickly to the legislature for third reading? The former, rather than the latter seem more likely at this point. Readers concerned about this issue may want to contact their MPP’s soon to encourage passage.
The private for-profit Canadian Plasma Resources has already opened its doors in Toronto without licensing from either the Federal or Provincial governments.
Yesterday Dr. Ryan Meili (EvidenceNetwork.ca) and Dr. Monica Dutt (Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare) published an op/ed in the Globe and Mail arguing paid plasma donation “poses significant ethical, safety and public health concerns.”
They made particular note of the World Health Organization’s caution that where paid blood donations are permitted, the number of voluntary donors decrease. This point should be underlined given the blood shortages Canada faced towards the end of last summer.
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.
In 2013 Health Canada held a by-invitation-only roundtable on the issue of paid plasma donations following our efforts to raise concerns over the application by the private Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR) to go into competition with the public Canadian Blood Services.
CPR had plans to immediately open two clinics in downtown Toronto to pay donors for plasma that would be turned into pharmaceutical product. A third in Hamilton was on its way. Their website says they still plan to do so in 2014.
Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae has jumped into the debate, noting that both Hema-Quebec and Canadian Blood Services are now both opposed to licensing for CPR.
Writes Rae in today’s blog post: “Those countries that have allowed “pay for plasma” schemes are regretting the decision. The reason is simple, and is based on practical evidence. These clinics typically rely on people who need the money. There is every reason to question the safety of the supply. Just as important, paying some people depletes the pool of potential donors, particularly among younger people who blood agencies around the world are trying to recruit to give blood as volunteers.”
Rae does not understand the delay by Heath Canada in saying no to the license application by CPR.
“For whatever reason, it’s taking federal and provincial governments a long time to make up their minds. It shouldn’t,” writes Rae. “The integrity of the blood supply, and our continuing resolve to keep a strong volunteer base, should make the answer simple: no to “pay for blood or plasma”. Period.
To read Rae’s full BLOG post, click here.
For more on the ethics of this issue, click here.