Pay for plasma: The economics behind paid and unpaid systems

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Paying for Blood Plasma
WATCH ABOVE: Would you donate the plasma in your blood if you got financial compensation? Canadians have never been paid for their plasma, but the recent opening of a private plasma clinic may change all that. Check out this preview of our paid plasma story, airing Sunday at 6 pm – Apr 30, 2016

The debate over paid plasma can be complex, as is the conversation about what impact it could have on supply.

A pay-for-plasma clinic recently opened in Saskatoon where people are given $25 credit cards in exchange for a donation, and there have been conversations across the country over the implications of these kinds of clinics.

READ MORE: Controversial plasma collection clinic now open in Saskatoon

However, several countries already use paid plasma systems, such as the United States and Germany.

An article in Transfusion Medicine and Hemotherapy showed a potentially negative effect of moving away from a paid model.

A survey showed 77 per cent of paid donors in Germany would stop donating their plasma if they did not receive compensation.

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“Therefore, non-remuneration would result in acute blood supply shortages,” the study reads.

A study in BMC Public Health cites the blood donation system in Lithuania, which had previously run exclusively on paid donations. After joining the EU, Lithuania began moving towards an unpaid model but there was dissent.

READ MORE: Pay for plasma: how it works and where the feds, Alberta stand 

Four-hundred donors were surveyed in September 2004 over a period of five working days across 10 cities in Lithuania.

The majority of paid donors, 92 per cent, thought they should be offered money for their blood while 71.9 per cent of all donors thought blood donation should be compensated.

Research showed 12.3 per cent of all donors would stop donating completely if no remuneration were given.

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“Provided monetary remuneration is completely terminated, part of the currently active paid donors would withdraw from this activity, which might seriously affect the national supply of blood and its products,” the study reads.

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“However, it has to be taken into consideration that about one-fifth of the Lithuanian respondents consider blood donation as a possible means of income.”

Meanwhile, a study published in the Asian Journal of Transfusion Science examined the impact of incentives on blood donors.

READ MORE: Pay for plasma: the ethical debate 

Donors in the U.S. are often enticed by event tickets, clothes or draws for televisions or cars to donate blood.

“The reason for contributing people in public prosocial activities like blood donation is to be well-regarded by others. But with extrinsic incentives, the signal of a prosocial act gets diluted. So the individuals may be discouraged to take part in such activities,” the research reads, citing a 2006 study.

“While saving the patient’s lives is the highest priority for blood banks, recruiting donors by material incentives may promote the wrong culture of paid donation and undermine the altruistic setting in blood donation.”

A study in New Zealand from the Wellington School of Medicine found similar results. It asked 345 blood donors in Wellington to fill in a questionnaire about compensation.

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It found 20 per cent of respondents would reconsider donating blood and 52 per cent of donors were unlikely to continue donating if profits were made from their blood.

“While some donors voiced concerns about the introduction of market mechanisms in the blood service, most had long-established patterns of donating, which they valued,” the authors wrote.

The Canadian Blood Services, however, said it would not feel threatened by private pay for plasma companies. CEO Dr. Graham Sher references other countries that use paid models, such as the United States, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria.

“In those places, one has not seen the emergence of for-profit plasma industry have a negative impact on blood collection,” he said.

“We’re obviously paying very close attention to this. But… we have our own plans to expand plasma collection under our auspices.”

Sher said the organization is working on a plan to increase plasma donations and adds he is open to changing the current operating model that does not allow for remuneration.

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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