The Current

Critics worry Sask. for-profit plasma clinic could erode Canada's blood supply

Saskatchewan is poised to get Health Canada approval to operate a private blood plasma company. The blood plasma industry is a multi-billion-dollar endeavour in North America and supporters argue Canadians are already part of it. But critics have some real concerns.
The for-profit clinic in Saskatoon is owned and operated by Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR), and will not be selling directly to Canadian Blood Services. (vagawi/Flickr cc)

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Money for blood can be a controversial practice anywhere in the world, but especially so in Canada. Yet Saskatchewan is set to open the first for-profit plasma donation clinic in the country.

The tainted blood scandal of the '80s looms large over the discussion of paid-for donations after upwards of 30,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after receiving tainted blood and plasma. And the federal inquiry that followed found that paid blood donations were in part to blame.

Since then the provinces of Ontario and Quebec moved to ban paid donations and there have been calls to put a federal ban in place. But Sask. says it's going ahead with a paid plasma clinic.

It should be a unified, one-donor-system. We already pay Canadian blood services a billion dollars to ensure that we have integrity and supply in the system in Canada.- Mike McCarthy does not support paid-plasma donations in Canada

Mike McCarthy, a hemophiliac who was infected with Hepatitis C during the tainted blood crisis, has become a vocal advocate for protecting Canada's blood and plasma system. He has real concerns allowing for-profit plasma clinics in Canada would hollow out the volunteer blood supply base. As a tainted blood survivor, McCarthy wants the federal government to implement a national ban on paid plasma.

Barzin Bahardoust, chief executive officer of Canadian Plasma Resources, a plasma-only clinic that doesn't include blood donations, says the clinic in Saskatchewan isn't licensed yet by Health Canada to distribute the blood product.

Bahardoust says the plasma currently collected is a pilot project and is either discarded or used for research purposes.

Plasma is a booming $11-billion industry in the U.S. (Reuters)

Saskatchewan is not the first province in which Canadian Plasma Resources has tried to set up for-profit clinics. The company tried to open clinics in Ontario until the province passed legislation forbidding companies from paying people for their plasma in 2014. 

Saskatchewan's Health Minister Dustin Ducan thinks for-profit plasma clinics are right for his province. He joined The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti to explain why, citing that Canada needs to become more self-sufficient since 80 per cent of plasma comes from paid donors in the United States and Europe.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman.