Wednesday, May 13, 2020

We need to ban private blood brokers

The following is an opinion editorial written by Kat Lanteigne, executive director of, and Curtis Brandell, president of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Hemophilia Society. It originally appeared in the National Post newspaper.
In a recent op-ed in the National Post, Kate Vander Meer and Peter Jaworski argued that experimental COVID-19 therapies derived from convalescent plasma will put further strain on our domestic blood plasma supply, so provincial governments should repeal laws that prevent private companies from collecting it from paid donors. Yet it is indefensible to use the tragedy of the pandemic, when thousands of Canadian lives are being lost, to peddle a private plasma collection model in Canada that has already been exposed as a sham. Their solution would only serve to create a competitive market for blood products, pitting private collectors against Canadian Blood Services.
Dr. Graham Sher, the head of Canadian Blood Services, along with his counterpart from Hema-Quebec, testified in front of the Canadian Senate last May and made it clear to the federal government that private plasma collectors operating in this country do not secure the supply chain for Canadians. Why? Because blood brokers make their profit on the international market, where they compete to sell their plasma to the highest bidder. In stark contrast, every single collection within our publicly funded blood system is guaranteed to go to Canadians patients. Sher was also openly critical of the deeply flawed and incomplete Health Canada report on plasma collection, which Vander Meer and Jaworski cite.
The real issue that blood profiteers have with the voluntary blood donations acts that were passed in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario is that they enshrine blood and plasma into law as public resources. As such, blood and plasma are treated as a vital necessity that is so critical to the lives of our citizens that it must be considered a public good, not a market-based one. This designation protects our domestic blood and plasma chain in Canada and prevents the pharmaceutical industry from controlling it.
The reason the United States exports plasma products is not only due to the fact that plasma brokers exploit large swaths of poor and vulnerable people who are desperate for cash, but because the U.S. is self-sufficient in plasma products, so it has a surplus. Canada does not. It would be a total dereliction of duty to permit private companies to deplete our domestic supply chain even further by allowing them to poach our donors.
The fact that the federal government gave blood brokers licenses to export plasma out of cash-strapped New Brunswick and Saskatchewan has been nothing less of an embarrassing policy blunder — one that was based on the fundamental lie: that blood brokers would contribute to our national blood supply. They do not.
The fact is that the private paid-plasma model is being systematically abandoned throughout the world. Public blood authorities are working to end their dependence on U.S.-sourced plasma drugs, to ensure that domestic plasma supplies can be self-sufficient. COVID-19 has actually highlighted the risk of depending on foreign supplies of life-saving products.
Canadian Blood Services has a major pan-Canadian plasma collection strategy that it’s about to launch and the paid plasma industry and its supporters are attempting to convince legislators to abandon the plan, so they can make money off of our veins during a pandemic. Using this crisis to dismantle our public blood system and open up Canada to the exploitative practices of the blood-broker industry when millions of people have lost their jobs is not only morally repellent, it’s utterly irresponsible.
COVID-19 has revealed many things about the strengths of our Canadian health-care system and has also given us an opportunity to reflect on how to make our system stronger. When it comes to our blood system, the solution has never been so clear: the federal government needs to own up to its responsibility as a regulator and shut down the paid-plasma industry in Canada now, in order to protect our domestic supply chain.
Canadians have done their part by answering the call to donate in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic; it is time for our elected officials to do theirs.