A clinic that pays donors for their blood hosted its official opening today in Saskatoon.

Plasma donation

A clinic that pays donors $25 per visit is now open in Saskatoon. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

Canadian Plasma Resources will pay donors a $25 gift card each time they donate plasma.

Canadian Blood Services collects enough plasma from volunteers for blood transfusions across the country but can't get enough to meet the demand for plasma-derived drugs. 

It buys from U.S. companies that use paid donors. In fact, 70 per cent of the plasma products used in Canada come from the U.S.

Many voices in the medical community would like to secure a domestic supply of plasma, instead of importing it from other countries.

"We're pleased that they have chosen to establish their first clinic in Saskatchewan," said Health Minister Dustin Duncan.

"We certainly believe we need to be part of the solution when it comes to increasing our self-sufficiency when it comes to plasma here in Canada." 

Plasma is the fluid that blood cells float in. It can be used to make treatments for conditions like burns and hemophilia.

Blood battle

The topic of paying people to donate blood products has been controversial.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour are asking the province to ban the practice.

'I think that it's a way to draw in more donors.' - Erin Harder, Canadian Immunodeficiencies Patient Organization

"When you start selling it, it quits becoming a public resource," says CUPE Saskatchewan president Tom Graham.

"It's adding another level of privatization into our health-care system."

Provinces like Ontario and Quebec have brought in bans on selling blood products.

Federal NDP health critic Don Davies called on the federal health minister on Thursday to "take measures to close" the donor clinic.

"We cannot allow profit maximization to compete with safety in the collection and delivery of Canada's life-saving blood resources," Davies said in a statement.

The tainted blood scandal of the 1980s continues to be central in the discussion of paid-for donations. Over 2,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and many thousands more were infected with hepatitis C from tainted blood products. The Krever Inquiry into the scandal pointed to paid-for blood services as a contributing factor.

Mike McCarthy was infected with Hepatitis C. Speaking in Toronto on CBC's The Current, McCarthy said he would like to see the Saskatchewan clinic shut down.

"Because if they set up in one province, it impacts the integrity of the whole system — so we're looking for the federal government to implement a national ban on paid plasma," he said. 

However, the program does have its defenders.

"I think that it's a way to draw in more donors," said Erin Harder, vice-president of the Canadian Immunodeficiencies Patient Organziation. "Because it's a longer process, there's not as many willing to donate." 

On Friday morning, Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders (CORD) issued a statement saying it "congratulates the Saskatchewan government and Minister Dustin Duncan for their foresight and courage in supporting the establishment of a plasma-collection facility in Saskatoon."

The organization noted that "the rare disease community depends on both red blood cells as well as plasma products."

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A clinic that will pay people $25 for their blood officially opened in Saskatoon.

The CEO of the company, Barzin Bahardoust, says plasma donations take three times longer than regular blood donations, making a small donation important.

"In our case, all cells are returned to the donor," he said. "Only plasma, which is water, and proteins are kept. We do a saline infusion at the last cycle of the process, so the donor doesn't feel dehydrated." 

Bahardoust would ultimately like to get 2,000 people as regular donors in Saskatoon. Since fluids are returned to patients, people are allowed to donate every week.

Right now, the plasma is processed in the U.S., then sent back to be used by Canadian patients. Canadian Plasma Resources would ultimately like to build its own plasma processing facility in the country, but will need to set up more donation sites across the country first.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Canada buys all of its plasma from the United States. In fact, 70 per cent of the plasma products used in Canada come from the United States.
    Feb 18, 2016 5:36 PM CT