Shut down Saskatoon pay-for-plasma blood clinic, NDP urges health minister

NDP health critic Don Davies is calling on Health Minister Jane Philpott to close the country's first paid-donor blood clinic in Saskatoon.

Paid blood donor clinics defy Krever commission's recommendations, activist Kat Lanteigne says

NDP Health critic Don Davies is calling on Health Minister Jane Philpott to close the country's first paid-donor blood clinic in Saskatoon. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

NDP health critic Don Davies is calling on Health Minister Jane Philpott to close the country's first paid-donor blood clinic in Saskatoon.

"Blood must always be considered a public resource, not a private one for exploitation and profit," Davies told reporters in Ottawa Monday.

Canadian Plasma Resources opened its doors on Feb. 18 and plans to pay people with $25 gift cards for making blood donations.

The centre will be inspected by Health Canada and must comply with national regulations, including donor screening and testing.

Plasma is the straw-coloured liquid portion of blood. It can be used to make treatments for conditions like burns and hemophilia.

Canadian Plasma Resources says donating typically takes one hour. It says plasma collected will be used in other medical therapies, not for direct transfusions.

Davies said that the clinic opens the door to the possibility of another tainted blood scandal. 

Krever commission

In the 1980s, more 30,000 Canadians were infected with hepatitis C, and about 2,000 Canadians were infected with HIV from tainted blood products. A stunning 40 per cent of all haemophiliacs were infected at the time with one of those diseases.

"Canada learned a clear lesson from the tragedy of the tainted blood scandal, and one of those principles is that profits must never be permitted to compete with safety in our blood system," Davies said.

The Krever commission — struck in the wake of the blood crisis — recommended against private, paid blood collection and placed the blame for the public health fiasco on the lax blood collection policies of the Canadian Red Cross, including importing plasma collected from high-risk prison populations in the U.S.

In the wake of the report, the Red Cross was stripped of its control over the blood program, and a new federal agency, Canadian Blood Services, was established to operate at arms length from the government.

Canada's blood supply became contaminated by HIV and hepatitis due to systematic failure, says a government inquiry. 2:47

Kat Lanteigne, a safe-blood activist and playwright, said that the approval of the Saskatoon blood clinic is a clear sign that the Liberal government is thumbing its nose at the landmark report's findings.

"The approval of private, paid blood donor clinics is in total defiance of Justice [Horace] Krever's fundamental recommendations of what never to do in Canada — and yet Health Canada has gone ahead and licensed these private blood brokers," she said.

"How many Canadians need to be buried before our government takes the tainted blood crisis and its impact on Canadian families seriously?" she said.

"I'm just ashamed we're back here talking about this again," Mike McCarthy, former vice president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, and himself a survivor of the tainted blood scandal, said. "We're risking it all for no benefit. I'm appalled. We may end up eroding the public system."

'Most vulnerable'

Saskatchewan NDP MP Sheri Benson said she was troubled by the precedent this clinic sets, calling it a step toward further privatization of the health care system in her home province.

"It preys on the most vulnerable in my riding, and this is a factor that we can't ignore," Benson said.

Philpott has fended off calls to close the clinic by saying Canada has one of the safest blood systems in the world.

She said in the House of Commons on Feb. 18 that the government has "examined this in great detail" and is "approaching this matter looking at the science and making sure that there are no compromises to the safety of the blood system."

Lanteigne said that Philpott's comments have "shattered" many in the tainted-blood community.

"Our voluntary blood system … is their legacy, and it is being stolen from them, for a private pharmaceutical company can collect Canadian plasma and export it on the world market," she said. "This will not benefit one single Canadian."

Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan supports the clinic and has noted that 70 per cent of plasma used in Canada currently comes from paid donors, largely in the United States, but also in Europe.

As the Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada begins, new evidence emerges that some AIDS deaths could have been prevented. 19:14

With files from The Canadian Press


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