Friday, 23 September 2016 08:00

Friends of Medicare urge provincial government to legislate against private donor-paid plasma collection

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A short three-minute video was shown to the audience at the Friends of Medicare event in Medicine Hat Sept. 13, detailing the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s and subsequent inquiry. A short three-minute video was shown to the audience at the Friends of Medicare event in Medicine Hat Sept. 13, detailing the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s and subsequent inquiry. Photo by Rose Sanchez

Officials with the Friends of Medicare and were on a five-city tour of Alberta last week, in an effort to raise awareness about private, for-profit donor-paid plasma collection in the country.

Both organizations would like to see a voluntary plasma collection system in Canada done through Canadian Blood Services, and provincial and territorial governments pass legislation to ensure private, for-profit donor-paid plasma “brokers” can’t set up shop.
About 40 people were in attendance at the Lethbridge stop on Sept. 12, while only a half dozen made it out to the Medicine Hat meeting Sept. 13.
“It’s sad that we have to have this discussion after what we’ve learned from the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s. We need to remind Canadians the importance of what happened back then,” said Sandra Azocar, executive director of the Friends of Medicare (FOM). “Blood and plasma collection must remain voluntary and public and not be contracted out to anyone else.”
The tainted blood scandal was Canada’s worst public health care disaster with 30,000 infected with Hepatitis C and 2,000 Canadians infected with HIV. It’s estimated 8,000 will die as a result of tainted blood or blood products.
In 1983, tainted plasma was imported into Canada. That plasma came from the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Testing for the AIDS virus in the United States didn’t get underway until spring of 1985 and the Red Cross (the collection system in Canada at that time) didn’t start testing until the fall that same year. For eight months, tainted blood was distributed across the country.
The Krever Inquiry into the scandal was undertaken almost a decade later in 1993 and lasted four years. The final report issued 50 recommendations and outlined how the blood system should be governed in Canada including that donors should not be paid, safety of the system is paramount, access to blood and blood products should be free and universal and that sufficient blood should be collected so importation from other countries is unnecessary. The report also said one national operator should collect blood and plasma and no part should be contracted out to others. The Canadian Blood Services took over the blood system in 1998. Victims were compensated, but it took decades to do so.
Earlier this year, officials with FOM caught wind that Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR) was exploring the possibility of opening private, for-profit donor-paid plasma clinics in Alberta. CPR attempted to open a clinic in Ontario a few years ago, until the provincial government there, after a strong public lobby, introduced legislation to stop it from setting up shop.
Friends of Medicare officials took their concerns about this to the provincial health minister.
“We’ve been asking since that initial meeting, for (the provincial government) to put in legislation banning the practice for paid-for-plasma clinics,” said Azocar.
“We all know (free) markets work well, but it does not work well in health-care ... Friends of Medicare supports a publically-regulated, not-for-profit voluntary blood collection system in Canada.”
Azocar said private for-profit, donor-paid plasma collection needs to be banned in provincial law across Canada, as it has already been in both Ontario and Quebec.
Kat Lanteigne, executive director for and writer of the play Tainted based on three-years of research about the tainted blood scandal, travelled to Alberta to help spread the message about concerns about private, donor-paid plasma collection.
Lanteigne said these types of clinics had started to show up in Ontario in the last few years.
“This is a big-pharma push,” she said. “If they can build a clinic and get a licence from Health Canada then they can open without the province’s permission.”
She said that the private sale and collection of blood and plasma introduces risk into the system. She also dispelled another myth that plasma is being imported into the country. She said that is not the case, as about 70 per cent of the drugs produced from plasma is what is being imported.
When successful in the fight to get Ontario to legislate against private, donor-paid plasma collection at the end of 2014, and because Quebec has a similar law, Lanteigne said they made the mistake of thinking that because the largest provinces in Canada had done this, the rest of the provinces would follow suit.
Instead, as part of one of her first decisions, the new federal Liberal Health Minister approved CPR opening a clinic in Saskatchewan. Lanteigne says the Saskatchewan government, led by Premier Brad Wall, then approved the private, donor-paid plasma collection business to open in Saskatoon, “in between a pawn shop and a pay-day loan company.”
“This collection facility is a blood broker. They are literally a middle man — a source to get profits.
“We’re asking the provinces and territories to pass voluntary blood donation acts which adds blood and plasma to their existing human tissue acts ...” Lanteigne explained.
There is a lot of information on the website about the issue, including an informative timeline. The organization also has a Heart Watch rating system. Alberta currently has three hearts and Lanteigne would like to see that increase to five.
“Saskatchewan has broken our hearts,” she adds.
Kim Storebo, CUPE Local 46 president who works with Canadian Blood Services (CBS), also spoke at the event. She said CUPE supports a public, voluntary-based blood system in Canada, adding CBS needs to increase the number of its own plasma collection sites. The organization has been slowly closing locations since 2012.
“There is no evidence the collection of plasma from paid donors will create self-sufficiency,” she said. “Under no circumstances should there be payment of blood plasma donors with cash or cash-in-kind equivalents.”
The union wants to see blood and plasma collection remain the sole responsibility of Canadian Blood Services and for the organization to expand its plasma collection and its work hours and ensure stable and consistent hours for its employees.
As part of the wrap-up of the Alberta tour officials with FOM, and CUPE presented an online SumOfUs petition with more than 15,000 signatures to provincial health minister Sarah Hoffman asking for all provincial governments to “implement legislation that ensures no for-profit, donor-paid blood plasma collection clinics are allowed to operate in Canada.”
Azocar assured those at the meetings that Friends of Medicare would continue to lobby the Alberta government this fall and next spring during the Legislature sittings.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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