Doctors want more answers about for-profit blood plasma clinics

March 14, 2013

CTV News

The federal government is considering approval for three new clinics in Ontario that would pay donors who give blood plasma. But a key doctors’ group is worried that not enough has been done to protect the safety of Canadians and to ensure there is no repeat of the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s.

A company called Canadian Plasma Resources is hoping to open three plasma-donor clinics in Toronto and Hamilton. It’s promising to offer $20 to anyone who donates plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood in which all red and white blood cells are suspended.

The company says on its website that all it requires is Health Canada approval before it can open its doors.

Ontario’s health minister is urging the federal government to hold off on approval so there can be more public debate about such clinics.

Andrew Boozary, a board member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, says his group has a number of questions about the company’s plan for the plasma.

“Where exactly are these blood products and plasma from these clinics going to go?” Boozary wondered in an interview with CTV News Channel Thursday.

“We don’t know enough about the operations of these for-profit clinics. Will these plasma products be sold back to us in the public system, which would incur the need for taxpayer money? Would they be going to pharmaceutical companies?”

Boozary says it’s surprising that the federal government is considering allowing a for-profit business to handle such donations, given that the sting of the tainted blood scandal is still being felt today.

“Canada did have access to paid-for blood back in the 1980s and there was this huge lack of transparency and oversight ... we ended up having this immense public health tragedy with 20,000 Canadians being infected with HIV or hep C.”

One of the key recommendations of the inquiry into the scandal was that blood donors shouldn't be paid for their donations, except in rare circumstances.

Boozary says he’s not sure that Canadians and health care workers have been assured that these clinics would be as safe as publicly-regulated blood donation systems.

“And that’s a question you would think -- given our history -- would be the first and foremost question that had to be answered. And it seems that this wasn’t addressed,” he says.

He says there also need to be more study about what paying donors for plasma might do to the current voluntary blood donation system and what kind of donor do the clinics hope to attract with their offers of financial compensations.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq agreed earlier this week to hold more public consultations before making a final decision on the clinics.

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