Health Canada approves increased plasma donations at private clinic
Canadian Plasma Resources can pay donors to provide plasma twice per week
Health Canada has approved more frequent paid plasma donations.
The federal department approved a request by the private company Canadian Plasma Resources to increase the number of times a person can donate from once every six days to twice per week.
The company operates clinics in Moncton, N.B., and Saskatoon, where people are paid to donate plasma. Canadian Blood Services, a non-profit agency, does not pay donors and limits donations to once per week.
BloodWatch, a group that represents tainted blood victims and advocates for a voluntary donation system, questions the decision.
"This is deeply concerning to us because Health Canada has approved a major regulatory change in blood collection in our country solely so that company can make a profit," said Kat Lanteigne, BloodWatch's executive director.
Plasma is the yellowish fluid that remains after red and white blood cells and platelets are removed from the blood. Fresh plasma is used for transfusions. Processed plasma is used in pharmaceutical products.
Lanteigne said a higher frequency could be hard on donors as a person's body needs time to recuperate.
Barzin Bahardoust, CEO of Canadian Plasma Resources, declined an interview. He said in an email that donor protein levels are monitored before donations and if they are too low, donations will be deferred until levels increase.
Bahardoust said proteins lost during donation are regenerated within 24 to 48 hours in a healthy adult. The company's website indicates donations must be at least two days apart.
Plasma collected by the company is sent to the European Union and used in pharmaceutical products sold around the world.
Health Canada did not make anyone available for an interview.
It said in an email that the company's February 2019 application to change the limit was accepted in May after "a rigorous review of the submitted data." That data was supplied by the company and pointed to U.S. regulations, the department said.
Eric Morrissette, a Health Canada spokesperson, said in an email the change "will not compromise the safety of Canada's blood system" and is in line with what's allowed in the United States.
Bahardoust said Canadian Plasma Resources expects to collect up to 35,000 litres of plasma, with about 30 per cent of that from its Moncton location.
About 300 people per week donate in Moncton. Last year the company indicated it wants to increase that to 1,000 people per week.
Donors are paid $20 for their first visit, $80 for a second donation, and $30 for subsequent donations. Donors can get a $10 bonus for returning within a week.
A person donating twice per week could earn more than $4,000 a year. Payments can be donated to charity.
Lanteigne said the increased frequency of paid donations raises concerns about voluntary blood donation.
Canadian Blood Services's website recommends donors choose one type of donation to make regularly. Those who want to donate both whole blood and plasma must wait 56 days after providing either type before donating the other type, the website states.
Canadian Blood Services previously said there was a drop in voluntary donors in Saskatoon after the private clinic opened. The agency says it's not concerned about the change in frequency.
A spokesperson for the agency told CBC that one or two small commercial operations, such as those in Saskatoon and Moncton, can likely coexist with its national system.
"It is the expansion or emergence of large-scale commercial for-profit collectors that is of greater concern," the spokesperson said. "We continue to monitor this closely and to discuss the consequences and impacts with Canada's health system leaders."
Bahardoust said the company plans to open eight more clinics by 2022. He declined to delve into specifics as plans have yet to be finalized.
He said the company doesn't have any outstanding applications with Health Canada for new clinics.
"Our plan has always been to supply all the plasma we collect to CBS at a fraction of their cost," he said, adding the agency has rejected that.
Calls for payment ban
BloodWatch has called on provinces to ban paid plasma donation. Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec prohibit payments.
Ted Flemming, New Brunswick's health minister, has indicated the government has no plans to do the same.
"I am confident that this position does not compromise the safety of, nor weaken, the country's volunteer blood system," Flemming wrote in a June letter to BloodWatch.
With files from Kelly Crowe