Canada's Health Minister said she believes pay-for-plasma blood clinics, similar to a new clinic in Saskatoon, will ultimately help the country's health system fill the gap between supply and demand for plasma products.
"Plasma products are necessary for a number of conditions, often severe and life threatening conditions like hemophilia or immune deficiencies," said Health Minister Jane Philpott in the House of Commons Monday.
"Unfortunately the supply does not meet the demand for these plasma products. So this is one facility that has opened up in Saskatchewan recently that actually compensates donors for their time that they give to give that."
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On Monday, Philpott came under fire after NDP health critic Don Davies called on Health Canada to shut down Canadian Plasma Resources in Saskatoon. The clinic opened its doors last month offering $25 gift cards for every plasma donation.
But a Saskatoon doctor isn't convinced there's a need for pay-for-plasma blood clinics and wonders whether or not compensating donors brings its own set of ethical questions.
Dr. Ryan Meili said Canadian Plasma Resources simply found a way to act as a middle-man, collecting plasma from Canadians and then selling those samples to drug companies.
"They're saying we need this, but none of the plasma they're collecting is actually going to Canadians. It's a business model. It has nothing to do with Canadian patients," Meili said. "It will be sold to drug companies and that concerns me."
Compensating donors $25 per donation raises red flags for Meili. He said the company has been pushed out of Ontario for setting up clinics in poorer neighbourhoods.
"That was part of why they were sent out of Ontario and they're doing the same thing in Saskatoon, [setting up] a few blocks away from the payday loan shops and pawn shops — it's really concerning," he said.
Meili says Saskatoon doesn't need these clinics, and rather than approving a business licence, a push for more plasma donations should be handled through Canadian Blood Services, not a company out to make a buck.
Plasma clinic CEO defends his business
"It is frustrating," said Canadian Plasma Resources CEO Barzin Bahardoust about the call to shut down his clinic. "It's not very surprising. It's something we have dealt with for a while."
Bahardoust said the majority of the plasma that is used by Canada already comes from paid donors — from the United States. He said the only fundamental difference is that donors at his clinic are giving blood domestically.
The centre will be inspected by Health Canada and must comply with national regulations, including donor screening and testing.
Compensating blood donors has been controversial for decades. After more than 30,000 Canadians were infected with hepatitis C, the Krever commission recommended against private paid blood collection.
"You have to look at facts," Bahardoust said. "There is no evidence that suggests that plasma protein products manufactured from compensated donors are any less safe than those made from volunteer donors."
Other groups, including the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the Canadian Union of Public Employees worry the move will led to increasing privatizations of the health care system.
Meili said there is an increase in this privatization with the recent opening of the private MRI clinic in Saskatoon.
"The government seems to be making their decisions based on the fact that a company sees a business opportunity, not based on what's actually most important for the health of the people in the province," Meili said.
The company said it compensates donors due to the lengthy process needed to extract plasma.
The company hopes to recruit between 2,000 to 2,500 regular donors.