Pay for plasma: Calls for and against it from those affected
Andrew Cumming is a hemophiliac who learned about two decades ago that he had been infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through tainted blood.
“It was probably the most loathed and stigmatized disease that anyone had contemplated,” he said of life after his diagnosis.
He said he was “gobsmacked” when he learned about Canadian Plasma Resources, a private pay for plasma clinic, offering compensation in return for plasma donations. The clinic offers $25 credit cards to donors.
It recently opened in Saskatoon, prompting conversation across the country about the concept of paying for human plasma.
“It was the outrage I felt that we were going into this model of paid blood in Canada where we’ve had an altruistic system,” he said.
Cumming said a paid model will motivate people to donate blood, not out of the kindness of their heart, because they are incentivized by money.
“There’s a conflict of interest when you start mixing the profit motives and the motives of a private corporation with the procurement of human tissue.”
Cumming said it may only be a matter of time before there is another infection just like the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s.
“Our federal minister cites we haven’t had a viral infection through the blood system in  years. That’s not very long. That just means we haven’t had a virus that’s mutated into a form where it can get into our blood system,” he said.
“There’s going to be another mutation, another virus that slips into our blood supply and it’s going to come in through that [pay for plasma] door. It’s a recipe for disaster. It’s a tinderbox. It’s going to explode.”
Both the federal health minister and the CEO of Canadian Blood Services have both said that a paid model is safe for Canadians and their blood.
“Plasma products made from paid and unpaid donations are equally safe and essential to meet global health needs,” reads a statement from federal health minister Jane Philpott.
Craig Upshaw, the president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, argues Canadians shouldn’t shy away from paid plasma clinics.
Upshaw, 48, has hemophilia and is mindful of his condition every day.
“You’re always running the risk potentially of having a bleed due to some type of injury so you’re much more careful with what you do,” he said.
WATCH: Craig Upshaw was born with hemophilia. He depends on therapies made from human plasma to keep his condition in check. Hear why he supports pay for plasma models.
He depends on therapies created from plasma products to keep his condition in check.
“It allows us to manage and treat the disease and avoid those kinds of bleeds and problems,” he said.
Upshaw said he had many friends die during the tainted blood scandal but he argues that hasn’t affected his view of pay for plasma clinics.
“It was a tragedy but, out of that, good for the general public also [came] across. The screening protocols, the testing protocols that are in place – the blood system is safer than it’s ever been.”
READ MORE: Pay for plasma: the ethical debate
Upshaw is trying to schedule a meeting with Alberta health minister Sarah Hoffman to speak about the issue. Hoffman has previously said she does not want pay-for-plasma clinics to open up in the province.
However, he said the reality of the issue is that Canada, like many countries in the world, already relies on paid donors.
“The reality is it all comes from a paid donor. That’s the reality right now. It’s a bit hypocritical to say, ‘Well, no, paid plasma, we’re not going to pay our donors for this.’”
Upshaw said his life, and the lives of others living with rare blood disorders, is ultimately on the line when discussing paid plasma.
“The global population depends on donors that roll up their sleeve, get their money for donating plasma and we all have life-saving drugs because of it,” he said.
If all the paid clinics in the world were eliminated, Upshaw said the lives of others suffering from rare blood disorders would be drastically different.
“I wouldn’t have products to treat. I’d be probably crippled. I’d probably be on crutches permanently,” he said.
“You’re talking about thousands of Canadians that would die, that would not have access to biological products that save their lives.”
Tune in to Edmonton’s Global News Hour at 6 on Sunday, May 1 for the first video report in this series.
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