Nova Scotia Must Say No to Pay-For-Plasma

This article appeared in the Fall 2023 edition of the Union Stand

A pay-for-plasma private clinic, Canadian Plasma Resources, is opening in Halifax – just down the street from the site of a new hospital near Bayers Lake. In the U.S., Corporations make billions from primarily poor peoples’ blood. With rents that have doubled and grocery prices rising… Quebec, BC and Ontario have banned private plasma blood clinics. Why hasn’t Premier Tim Houston?

On September 19, Mary Otto, President of Local 43, Canadian Blood Services, NSGEU Board member, and NS Health Coalition Boad member, attended a small but mighty demonstration and gave a moving and inspired speech about the importance of investing in our public blood supply system and the risks associated with the privatization of it as laid out in the Krever report in 1997. Here is the link to a short video we did.

Below is Mary Otto’s speech:

As the President of Local 43, Canadian Blood Services, I represent workers who put forward a resolution to go to the NSGEU, as well as the Federation of Labour, to fight the practice of ‘pay-for-plasma’ and to keep this system out of this province. But my main motivation behind this is a very personal one. I was very aware from the time I was a child of the tainted blood scandal because I had family members affected by it. They were infected by tainted blood, and it was preventable. The Krever report found that the Red Cross knew that there was infected blood – and it was about spending money for testing.

Money should never, ever, be involved in making decisions over health care because this is what can happen when you put money first. Tragedy happens. The cost of life is the price that we pay.
People will say the tainted blood scandal was 25 years ago – a long time ago. Well, fractionation was around 25 years ago when Justice Krever made came out with recommendations for our Canadian blood system – that no one should ever be paid for blood. It is also not 25 years ago to the people who are still living with infections from tainted blood.

At the beginning of COVID, our fridges at CBS were emptier than I had ever seen them. The Prime Minister came out saying, “please donate blood, we need it”. Alberta overturned the Voluntary Blood Donations Act which banned money for blood and opened the doors to ‘paid plasma’ in their province. While this was happening, I had a family member die of cancer that was 100% caused by tainted blood. It actually was in his obituary. So, it’s not a 25 year ago issue to anyone who has been affected by tainted blood. They and their families are still living with the consequences. I also have to say the workers of Canadian Blood Services care deeply about the people who are receiving the blood.

Personally, I think about it every day. At least once a week, I think about my Uncle David who died as a result of tainted blood, or my father, who did not trust the blood system after the tainted blood scandal. A number of years ago, my father had to have several blood transfusions. And afterwards, he said to me, “please thank your coworkers, because I know that I am not going to get an infection and die.” He said, “I don’t have to worry about the blood that I’m receiving because I know that it’s a voluntary system. I know you. I know the processes that are in place.”

So, we need to understand that patients want and need blood, but they don’t want it from the paid donors. ‘Pay-for-plasma’ is terrifying to people in my family who need blood products.

And the ‘pay-for-plasma’ companies say we are already dependent on a paid blood product. [We already buy it.] This is something that we should be looking at as Canadians. Why are we increasing our reliance on a product that exploits vulnerable people? [ ‘Pay-for-plasma’ companies are concentrated in poor neighborhoods in cities across the US preying on vulnerable people.] Shameful. It is shameful. We have the capability to increase our voluntary system. We should not be partnering with paid plasma companies to undermine and pull donors out of the voluntary system.

All we need to look at is Quebec. Quebec has their own blood system. They’ve come out and said, this [pay-for-plasma] is not happening in Quebec. They have managed to increase their plasma collections. They are so far ahead of where we are. We can do this same thing with a voluntary system.

All it takes is the political will to invest in public plasma clinics that are already being opened across the country by Canadian Blood Services. Why would we pay this private company to collect plasma on our behalf? It makes absolutely no sense.

They say that the reason people don’t donate is because they’re not asked. So, I’m going to make an ask. I’m going to ask all of you to please consider coming out donating and supporting our voluntary system. And please, please, please write to your politicians, and let them know you don’t want pay-for-plasma here. I can tell you this is a conversation I’ve had with Tim Houston many times. He said, it makes sense.

Funding for Canadian Blood Services comes from the territories and provinces. We do not need to allow this. We do not need to have people selling their literal blood to feed their children or put a roof over their house.


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