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