Advocate for tainted blood victims says private blood services would make Canadians less safe

An advocate for victims of Canada's tainted blood scandal says she's "upset" that B.C.'s health minister "doesn't see anything inherently wrong" with private, for-profit blood providers working in B.C.

'We have no control over what that plasma is used for and who it goes to,' says Kat Lanteigne

Kat Lanteigne, co-founder of bloodwatch.org, says opening up Canada’s blood system to private companies will ultimately make it less safe. (Getty Images)

Is it in you to sell?

After B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake wrote an editorial saying the province is open to allowing private blood plasma companies to set up shop, a group representing victims of the tainted blood scandal are urging a rethink.

Kat Lanteigne, co-founder of bloodwatch.org, says opening up Canada's blood system to private companies will ultimately make it less safe.

"We have no control over what that plasma is used for and who it goes to," she told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"That plasma will be collected and exported out of the country. It goes to Texas, for a laboratory for testing, and then it gets exported to a company in Germany that supposedly are going to make it into a medication and then maybe we might buy it back. Once that plasma leaves Canada, we have absolutely no oversight."

In a message on the website of the agency that oversees Canada's blood supply, Canadian Blood Services CEO Dr. Graham Sher says plasma from paid donors is safe. 

"The finished products that come from the commercial paid plasma industry are inordinately safe, and there has been no documented evidence of any viral transmission for almost three decades or more from these products," says CBS on its website.

Is inconvenience the issue?

Canadian Blood Services says it's not collecting enough plasma to meet the country's needs, and is open to paying donors — although later backtracked from that position in a statement.

A private company, Canadian Plasma Resources, has already begun offering $25 "gift coupons" to donors in Saskatoon.

But Lanteigne says the issue isn't a lack of supply causing situations like Saskatchewan's private clinic to arise: it's the fact the plasma can be sold for big profits to pharmaceutical companies that make medications from plasma.

"We are self-sufficient when it comes to whole blood and plasma for transfusions, and that's just out of four percent of the population donating," she said. "What we're not self-sufficient in is plasma-based medications, and that's the stuff we buy from the U.S."

'Considerable and growing risk'

Lanteigne says Canada only produces 30 per cent of the plasma-based medication used in its borders, but says if the blood donor base is expanded, it could be closer to 70 percent.

On its website, Canadian Blood Services says Canadian donors only account for 25 per cent of plasma-based medication used in the country. 

"Our ongoing analysis shows Canada's, and the world's, dependence on plasma from the United States is a considerable and growing risk," says the agency.

"There are increasing concerns worldwide about the ability of the U.S. plasma collection industry to continue to meet growing global demand for plasma protein products."

On Tuesday, Lanteigne says she and the B.C. Hemophilia Society will meet with Lake to lobby for legislation to keep private players out of the blood system.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Don't allow private blood services in B.C., advocate tells health minister