Sunday, April 14, 2013

Still my guitar gently weeps (Yet more musings on commercialization of our blood supply)

This is the 4th blog in a series on commercialization of Canada's blood supply. The title is from an old George Harrison ditty. 

The previous blog noted that Health Canada had a closed-to-the-media roundtable on paid plasma donors in Canada.

Who knows what was said in that meeting but now we learn that 
Yowsa! The government wants to hear from Canadians. My guess is that then they can claim they listened and followed the will of the people, or at least those with the most vested interest. 

Fascinating stuff from these news reports.

Health Canada's Viewpoint
“From Health Canada’s perspective this is not a safety issue,” said Dr. Robert Cushman, director general of Health Canada’s Biologic and Genetic Therapies Directorate. 
“The paid plasma issue is public policy that has to do with our culture and our values. And that needs to be addressed as a collective community,” he said after the meeting. 
“But as we’re looking at that, we should realize that 70 per cent of what we need is imported from the United States, where the donors are paid. So isn’t this a bit of a double standard? You can’t pay at home, but you can pay abroad.”
So...to HC, safety is apparently a done deal. Plasma derivatives are safe, folks, thanks to pre-donation questions, excellent infectious disease screening tests, and manufacturing processes. No worries, mate. 

It's all about our Canadian culture and values. Oh, but if Canadians reject paid plasma donations, we're hypocrites. 

CBS CEO Graham Sher's Viewpoint
"The issue really is one of security of supply and having sufficient access of these drugs for the patients that need them. About 70 per cent of the patients who depend on these products get them from the commercial paid plasma industry, so without that there would be a potential shortage of product. We've offered no opinion and it's not our role to offer an opinion on whether or not this particular facility should be licensed to operate in Canada."
Well, for someone who offers no opinion, CEO Sher seems to offer quite a few: Oh, by the way, if you don't allow paid plasma donations, patients would suffer terribly from the resulting shortage. But that's not for us to say....

As an aside, Big Pharma, whose blood derivatives are paid for by Canadian tax payers, funds several Canadian Blood Services programs

I've been on the receiving end myself. A website I helped develop was only possible because a drug company on contract to CBS for plasma derivatives gave 'x' % to CBS as a 'kickback' for education as a part of its contract. 

Canadian Hemophilia Society Viewpoint
David Page, national executive director of the CHS, supports donor payment and says CHS sees no safety, supply or ethical argument against paid donation in Canada. 
He says it’s already a reality at Cangene, where the company works with a very specific group of plasma donors to make specialized hyperimmune drugs.
“Collecting more plasma from Canadian donors, paid or unpaid, would add to the world’s supply of a scarce resource.” 
Oh, we already pay plasma donors in Canada. They're so needed. It's both safe and ethical.

As an aside, CHS relies on the generosity of 'corporate philanthropy', i.e., receives much funding from the companies who, interestingly, manufacture plasma derivatives.


Take-home message
The writing is on the wall, folks. The fix is in. All those with a vested interest have the government's ear. Even the regulators are on board, suggesting to reject paid plasma donations would be hypocritical. 

The saga continues. If you think run-of-the-mill plasma should not be a commodity to be bought and sold, let the government know. 
For interest, the prior blog in this series has an interesting comment from Penny Chan, who worked on the Krever Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada and served as the scientific liaison officer for the National Blood Safety Council from 1997 until it was disbanded in 2003. 

For Fun
I don't know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you.
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps. 
As always comment are most welcome. 

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