The chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare said she was shocked by the news that a company in Ontario was planning to pay for plasma.
"The critical issue here is opening up our blood services sector to for-profit companies who have an interest in providing a profit to their shareholders that at times could conflict with the imperative to maintain high quality health standards for Canadians," Dr. Danielle Martin said in an interview Wednesday at Women's College Hospital, where she is a family physician.
She called on the federal government to deny approval to Canadian Plasma Resources.
"The government is also entitled to say, 'This isn't in the best interest of Canadians. We don't want anyone making a profit off of our blood donation system.'"
Martin said the current blood system isn't broken.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has asked her officials to take a closer look at the licensing application from Canadian Plasma Resources, which plans to open two clinics in Toronto and one in Hamilton. Once up and running, anyone who passes a screening questionnaire would be hooked up to a machine for plasma collection and in return, would receive $20.
Plasma is a component of blood that contains proteins that can be used to treat diseases. It can be donated up to twice a week.
"This organization has made an application. They do not have the licence to accept plasma donations at this point in time so if there are concerns from Canadians they are free to express those concerns to Health Canada," Aglukkaq told reporters in Yellowknife. "We will review those."
Provincial health ministers are concerned about the move and its impact on Canada's voluntary blood products system.
'We will not pay our donors'
"Voluntary donations should be maintained and protected," reads a memorandum of understanding between provinces and Canadian Blood Services. The agreement was signed after 20,000 Canadians became infected with HIV and hepatitis C from tainted blood and plasma imported from the U.S., where donors are paid.
"The impact on the supply of blood and blood products of the shift towards a paid-donor system needs to be carefully evaluated," Saskatchewan's health ministry said in an statement.
"We are working with Health Canada to ensure full consultation with stakeholders before moving forward in the licensing of this commercial, for-profit, business operation. It is important that this development not negatively impact the safety and security of supply as well as the principle of the voluntary blood system."
Canadian Blood Services has said it has no plans to purchase plasma from the new operation. But today, the agency argued against a prohibition on paying some donors.
"Canadian Blood Services collects blood and plasma for transfusion purposes and platelets from donors," Dr. Graham Sher, chief executive officer for Canadian Blood Services, said in an interview. "We do that in a fashion that is non-renumerated. Donors do not get paid for blood donations in Canada, and we will never support blood donation by payment."
That's because officials distinguish between two uses of plasma. Plasma used for transfusions is always donated as part of an extensive screening and testing system.
Plasma can also processed and purified into therapeutic products using technology that inactivates viruses. For this stream, Canada uses products made from U.S. paid donor plasma.
"I'm not at all advocating that this clinic should open in Canada or that they should be paying donors in Canada," Sher said. "I'm simply saying we need to recognize that some of the drugs used in this country today come from the paid commercial plasma industry."
The World Health Organization and the International Society of Blood Transfusion call for fully altruistic blood donation.
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