Health Canada to seek feedback on payment for blood plasma

Canadians will be able to comment on whether a private company should be allowed to pay people for their plasma.

Aglukkaq says Canadians will get a chance to express their views in next few weeks

Canadians will have a chance to comment on whether a private company should be allowed to pay people for their plasma.

Health Canada said today that is opening up a comment period on its website "in the coming weeks" for people to express their concerns or support on paid plasma donations and its potential impact on Canada's blood system. No date  has been announced.

Blood experts have raised concerns about the 'slippery slope' that could divert volunteer blood donors to the paid system. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

Patient advocates, academics, the blood products industry, provincial and territorial governments, Canadian Blood Services, Héma-Québec, Health Canada and other relevant government departments met in Toronto on Wednesday to discuss paid plasma. 

"This meeting gave us the opportunity to hear from stakeholders so that we can respond to and clarify some of their concerns," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement.

Since compensation of blood donors is an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, Aglukkaq said she will communicate with her colleagues to share the concerns of stakeholders.

CBC News revealed in March that Canadian Plasma Resources is setting up paid-donor blood plasma clinics in Toronto and Hamilton, Ont.

Since then, concerns have been expressed by some doctorsCanadians who became infected with HIV and hepatitis C from tainted blood and plasma imported from the U.S starting in the 1980s, a union representing blood employees of Canadian Blood Services and provincial health ministers.

The worry is that Canada's voluntary blood products donor system could be affected.

Mike McCarthy has hemophilia and contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood in the 1990s. He attended the discussions earlier this week.

"While there's screening efforts in place to ensure that those people do not donate, it's not foolproof and ultimately the screening process does rely on honesty and again money gets in the way of that in certain cases," McCarthy said.

Canadian Blood Services collects blood and plasma for transfusions from volunteer blood donors and also buys plasma from the U.S. that is used to make therapeutic products to treat people with burns, trauma and cancer.

"Our first view is that this is not an issue of safety," said Dr. Graham Sher, CEO of Canadian Blood Services.

"The issue really is one of security of supply and having sufficient access of these drugs for the patients that need them. About 70 per cent of the patients who depend on these products get them from the commercial paid plasma industry, so without that there would be a potential shortage of product. We've offered no opinion and it's not our role to offer an opinion on whether or not this particular facility should be licensed to operate in Canada."

With files from CBC's Kas Roussy and Amina Zafar