Bill 204 threatens & undermines our voluntary public blood system

Bill 204 threatens & undermines our voluntary public blood system

November 3, 2020

Bill 204 threatens & undermines our voluntary public blood system

Back in March, Friends of Medicare warned Albertans that while our province was grappling with the beginnings of an unprecedented pandemic, private blood brokers were trying to find a way to profit from this dire situation. The Alberta government lobbyist registry showed that a big pharma interest group representing the private for-profit blood industry (Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association represented by Santis Health Inc), was attempting to persuade the government to repeal the Voluntary Blood Donation Act, which bans for-payment blood clinics in the province.

As expected, MLA Tany Yao soon introduced Bill 204: Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act, which is now expected for third reading on Monday, November 9. While Mr Yao has insisted that his Bill 204 will help address our domestic plasma supply needs, his mere three page bill contains no stipulations to guarantee that privately collected plasma will remain in Alberta or even Canada. In fact, private blood brokers make their profit on the international market, where they compete to sell their plasma to the highest bidder. In contrast, every single collection within our publicly funded blood system is guaranteed to be used to treat Canadian patients. 

In May 2019, Canadian Blood Services' CEO Dr. Graham Sher spoke at the Canadian Senate where he said: 

“Most significantly for Canada, ceding control of donated plasma to commercial for-profit businesses does not mitigate the domestic security of supply concern. The vast majority of the world’s plasma collection is vertically integrated with the fractionation industry. It serves a global supply chain and does not ensure domestic security of supply.” 

In July, during his presentation to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members' Public Bills, Dr. Sher doubled down on this message and warned against the threat Bill 204 poses to Canada's voluntary collection system:

“It is our role to provide advice as the national blood authority, on the impacts of changes to legislation. In this context, then, we are not neutral on the repeal of the Voluntary Blood Donations Act. Without the dialogue and the resolution we’ve been calling for, I cannot definitively say that repealing this legislation will not harm the voluntary collection system that governments have invested in for decades. I can say, however, that commercial plasma collection without controls will not address domestic security of supply.“

Now, the European Blood Alliance has released a statement affirming that the introduction of for-profit blood collection has negative impacts supply sufficiency, safety and quality:

“The presence in several European countries of a dual system where commercial operators also collect plasma and offer payment to plasma donors erodes the current community-based, non-remunerated donor population, which is the key element to secure a safe sustainable supply of blood components and plasma for fractionation. Furthermore, preferentially relying on a larger donor base undergoing non-remunerated plasma donation at a low frequency reduces overall donor burden, maintains donor safety and provides optimal plasma product in terms of protein content.”

Blood authorities worldwide know that allowing the corporatization of blood systems compromises supply chains, and yet Alberta is poised to pass new legislation that would allow private corporations to collect and export this province’s blood, in the midst of a worsening pandemic. 

“What part of science or expert advice does this government not understand?” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “Bill 204 is not in the interest of Albertan patients or our Canadian plasma supply, it's merely yet another vindictive and uninformed attempt to undo the previous government’s work. It’s about enabling the creation of a dual system that only benefits corporate blood brokers and the pharmaceutical companies that profit substantially from the sale of our plasma on the global market.”

While Canada is not currently self-sufficient when it comes to our domestic plasma supply, we are self-sufficient for patients' whole blood and plasma transfusion needs. Demand for plasma-derived products like pharmaceuticals has expanded massively over the past several years, and our public blood authority, Canadian Blood Services, is currently working to ramp up their collection efforts including opening three new standalone plasma donation sites, one of which will be located in Lethbridge. 

“Bill 204 threatens to compromise CBS' efforts to expand our supply through voluntary donation by introducing unnecessary commercial competition in the form of companies that intend to profit from the export of our plasma,” says Azocar. “If the government were truly interested in improving our domestic supply and not just securing profits for private blood brokers, their efforts would be better spent supporting our public blood authority's work to substantially expand non-remunerated plasma collection in this province and country.”

We anticipate Bill 204 will be heard in the legislature for third reading next Monday. We have one last week to tell this government, MLA Yao and all MLAs that we unequivocally do not want a dual blood system. Friends of Medicare urge all Albertans to contact their representatives and tell them to vote down Bill 204, for the sake of our domestic supply chain and all Albertan patients.

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