Let blood prod­ucts be sold

Canada is re­liant on the U.S. for plasma pro­tein prod­ucts, and that is not healthy

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - LICIA COR­BELLA Licia Cor­bella is a Post­media colum­nist in Cal­gary. lcor­bella@post­media.com

If COVID-19 has taught us any­thing, it’s that Canada should no longer rely so heav­ily on other coun­tries for our sup­ply of PPE. But what about PPPS?

How many of us know that 100 per cent of Canada’s sup­ply of plasma pro­tein prod­ucts (PPPS) come from for­eign, for-profit phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies that pay plasma donors?

Ac­cord­ing to Cana­dian Plasma Re­sources, a new Cana­dian phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany that wants to col­lect hu­man plasma and man­u­fac­ture it into the drugs that many peo­ple need to sur­vive, 17 per cent of the plasma — the clear, wheat-coloured liq­uid that is the largest com­po­nent of hu­man blood — used in man­u­fac­tur­ing life-sav­ing drugs comes from vol­un­teer donors in Canada, which is then shipped to these for­eign com­pa­nies for pro­cess­ing.

A United Con­ser­va­tive Party MLA has put for­ward a cu­ri­ous pri­vate mem­ber’s bill that is de­signed to rem­edy that by al­low­ing for hu­man blood prod­ucts to be sold.

Tany Yao, the UCP MLA for Fort Mcmur­ray-wood Buf­falo, is ex­pected to bring for­ward a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill that would re­peal Al­berta’s ban on the pri­vate pur­chase of hu­man blood prod­ucts.

Due to par­lia­men­tary prac­tice, Yao’s of­fice said he was un­able to dis­cuss the bill un­til he of­fi­cially speaks on it in the House.

Pur­chas­ing hu­man blood was banned in Al­berta by the NDP gov­ern­ment in 2017 with the Vol­un­tary Blood Do­na­tion Act. Yao’s bill is ti­tled the Vol­un­tary Blood Do­na­tion Re­peal Act.

On the sur­face, Yao’s bill sounds dis­turb­ing, if not alarm­ing. But scratch a bit deeper, and it makes a lot of sense and should be ex­plored.

Af­ter the tragedy of Canada’s tainted blood tragedy, in which 30,000 Cana­di­ans who re­ceived blood trans­fu­sions be­tween the late-1970s and into the early 1990s were in­fected with hepati­tis C, and an­other 1,000 peo­ple re­ceived blood in­fected with the virus that causes AIDS, Canada’s blood sup­ply was taken out of the hands of the Cana­dian Red Cross.

That avoid­able dis­as­ter — which killed thou­sands of Cana­di­ans — and the scan­dal that en­sued led to a four-year public in­quiry led by Jus­tice Ho­race Kr­ever. The fi­nal re­port and rec­om­men­da­tions for change — made by the Kr­ever Com­mis­sion — were re­leased in Novem­ber 1997. One year later, gov­ern­ments es­tab­lished Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices as a new, in­de­pen­dent, not-for-profit blood au­thor­ity in all prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries ex­cept Que­bec, which has Hema.

“If passed, this bill will di­vert dona­tions away from Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices to pri­vate buy­ers, who can then sell them to the high­est bid­der on world mar­kets,” said NDP health critic David Shep­herd. “This is very bad for Al­ber­tans. It flies di­rectly in the face of the Kr­ever In­quiry.”

Shep­herd said On­tario, Que­bec and Bri­tish Columbia also have leg­is­lated bans on the pur­chase of hu­man blood. Man­i­toba has a sin­gle paid-do­na­tion cen­tre for rare blood types that pre­dates the Kr­ever Com­mis­sion. Saskatchew­an and New Brunswick have pri­vate blood pur­chas­ing lo­ca­tions. Canada’s other prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries do not cur­rently have bans or pri­vate blood buy­ing sites.

Shep­herd said the pre­vi­ous Al­berta NDP gov­ern­ment passed the Vol­un­tary Blood Do­na­tion Act in re­sponse to pri­vate blood buy­ers such as Cana­dian Plasma Re­sources, which was hop­ing to open lo­ca­tions in Al­berta.

Again, on the sur­face, it seemed like a wise thing to do. No­body wants to be get­ting their blood from peo­ple whose only in­cen­tive to donate is to get some quick cash. In the dis­tant past, that in­cluded in­jec­tion drug users.

An NDP news re­lease says Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices “doesn’t buy from these com­pa­nies, so it’s un­clear where the blood or plasma pur­chased in Saskatchew­an and New Brunswick is go­ing.”

Ac­cord­ing to Cana­dian Plasma Re­sources, how­ever, Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices and Hema-que­bec “spend about $900 mil­lion im­port­ing PPPS ev­ery year and this num­ber is rapidly in­creas­ing.”

The com­pany points out on its web­site that blood and plasma dona­tions for di­rect trans­fu­sions into pa­tients will re­main a fully funded, vol­un­tary sys­tem.

“The is­sue is about col­lect­ing the plasma re­quired to man­u­fac­ture phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts.”

Be­cause the har­vest­ing of plasma takes about two hours and “donors” are ex­pected to stay healthy and donate as much as twice per week, they are paid up to $50 per do­na­tion.

Cur­rently, Canada is en­tirely de­pen­dent on the U.S. for our sup­ply of PPPS. Just as it is overly de­pen­dent on China for its sup­ply of PPE. Nei­ther sce­nario is healthy.

“The ques­tion is not whether Canada will con­tinue to rely on paid donors,” states the com­pany’s web­site. “The ques­tion is whether those paid donors will con­tinue to be ex­clu­sively Amer­i­can.”

This global pan­demic has pro­vided Cana­di­ans — and ci­ti­zens around the world — with the recog­ni­tion that when it comes to our health we have to be more self-suf­fi­cient and less re­liant on other coun­tries to pro­tect us from harm.

Canada needs to be able to sup­ply its own PPE and, more im­por­tantly, our own PPPS. Our lives de­pend on it.

Plasma from vol­un­teer Cana­dian donors is shipped to for­eign com­pa­nies for pro­cess­ing.

Tany Yao

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