SASKATOON – A controversial new plasma collecting facility in Saskatoon has officially opened it’s doors. The state-of-the-art facility is being met with both criticism regarding safety and kudos from patient groups.
Tens of thousands of patients across the country are estimated to rely on medicines manufactured from human plasma, one of the major components of blood.
“These patients suffer from immune deficiencies, bleeding disorders and other significant and potentially life threatening diseases,” said Dr. Barzin Bahardoust, CEO of Canadian Plasma Resources (CPR).
Yet, only 20 per cent of all plasma products used in the country come from Canadians.
“We certainly believe we need to be part of the solution when it comes to increasing our self-sufficiency when it comes to plasma here in Canada and this is a part of doing that,” said Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan.
CPR, located on Quebec Avenue, is regulated by Health Canada and received a license as a collection site from the province.
On Thursday, the facility received praise from the Canadian Immunodeficiencies Patient Organization who said there are currently 200 primary immune deficit patients receiving treatment in Saskatchewan and another 700 people that have yet to be diagnosed.
“Plasma derived therapy is the only treatment option currently available to our patient population. these therapies are life-saving and essential to so many Canadians,” added Erin Harder.
To treat one Alpha-1 patient for a year, it could take as many as 1,000 plasma donations to manufacture enough medicine for just that patient.
So, why is the facility the subject of a heated debate? In order to attract enough qualified donors, compensation in the form of a 25 dollar pre-paid credit card is handed out every time someone rolls up their sleeve, which could be as often as once a week.
“Who are you attracting I suppose when you are paying people for their blood? Are you attracting healthy people with good health or are you attracting people that need 25 dollars?” said the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Saskatchewan president, Tom Graham.
Facility officials say paying donors is something virtually every international company does even if it is banned in Ontario.
“Personally, I just fundamentally disagree with the position Ontario took,” said Duncan.
“It’s interesting that they passed legislation to ban the collection of plasma on a paid donation basis but they didn’t introduce legislation to ban the importation of plasma products that came from a paid donor.”
Saskatoon doctor Ryan Meili says he has concerns paid donation will decrease voluntary donation and that donating long-term could can lead to health complications.
CUPE’s Graham agreed, saying donors shouldn’t be paid to do the right thing and cited safety concerns with the blood supply when coming from paid donors.
“I’m hoping the screening is better than it was in the 1980’s but things go wrong.” he said.
“I’m not saying it’s an astronomical problem but why are we adding this risk in.”
Allegations Bahardoust said are unjustified from the union.
“There has been no cases of transmission of HIV, hepatitis C or B through fractionated plasma protein products in the last 20-25 years and we don’t think there’s any safety concerns regarding the plasma we collect here, Health Canada is also of the same opinion.”
Bahardoust said not only is the safety of the blood supply a priority but so too is the safety of the donor giving it.
“Every time we collect plasma we not only test plasma for transmission of disease but we also test the protein and the total composition of the protein and also vital signs of the donor those are all done to make sure the donor’s safety is not jeopardized.”
The clinic is aimed at residents from Saskatoon and surrounding area to increase the odds of repeat donors. A first-time visit takes up to two hours, a repeat visit just over an hour.
Criteria to donate also includes donors who are:
- between 17 and 61 years of age
- weigh at least 110 pounds
- present valid photo ID
- qualify to donate which includes an interview, medical examination and testing on two separate occasions within a 16-week period
The clinic, like it or not is accepting donations now.