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Advocacy group presses N.S. government to ban private plasma companies

Last Updated Apr 10, 2018 at 1:20 pm EDT

Kat Lanteigne, left, executive director of Bloodwatch.org, and Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, field questions at a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Health care workers and advocates are calling on the government to introduce legislation to ban for-profit blood brokers in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX – A national advocacy group appealed to the Nova Scotia government Tuesday to ban private, for-profit plasma companies from the province, saying the model discourages voluntary donations and compromises safety.

Kat Lanteigne of BloodWatch.org met with staff from the office of provincial Health Minister Randy Delorey to press for legislation prohibiting such companies from operating in the province.

She said that unless the Nova Scotia government adopts such a law, it would not be able to stop a company like Canadian Plasma Resources, which has an operating licence from Health Canada.

Lanteigne, who was kicking off a cross-country tour in Halifax to promote her message, said Nova Scotia and British Columbia are thought to be the next possible locations for collection centres for the company, a pharmaceutical manufacturer that collects plasma from donors and uses it for therapies to treat a variety of health conditions.

“We are trying to compel the governments in both provinces to join Ontario, Alberta and Quebec who all have a ban in place, to pass this law in order to protect the blood supply in Nova Scotia,” she said ahead of her meeting, arguing that the for-profit model reduces voluntary donors.

“They literally take donors out of the public system, so you lose access to donors and you create a competitive model … and safety on all sides is an issue.”

Delorey said the province is aware of concerns voiced by groups such as BloodWatch. He said he has also discussed concerns with the head of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, Janet Hazelton.

However, Delorey said the province hasn’t taken a position to date on whether or not to ban private plasma companies.

“We know there is a national report coming out this spring so what we are doing is waiting for that report to get that information to inform any next steps we might take as a province,” said Delorey.

Delorey said there are currently no private companies operating in the province.

“Right now blood donations are through Canadian Blood Services on a volunteer basis,” he said.

Lanteigne said allowing a private blood supply system contravenes the recommendations of the Krever inquiry, a royal commission struck to look into Canada’s blood supplies after thousands of Canadians were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C from tainted blood and blood products from the mid-1980s to 1990. It had cautioned against compensating people for blood products.

Private, paid-plasma clinics now operate in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, where Canadian Plasma Resources pays donors up to $50 for each donation.

“We are trying to compel these health ministers to uphold what we view as their legal obligation to protect the blood system,” Lanteigne said.

Barzin Bahardoust, CEO of Canadian Plasma Resources, said Tuesday his company has no immediate plans to open collection centres in Nova Scotia.

He said he is awaiting a report from an expert panel assembled by Health Canada that is assessing the country’s long-term supply of immune globulins — which are derived from plasma — before announcing any future expansion.

But, he disputed Lanteigne’s assertion that the for-profit collection model diminishes the supply or affects its safety. Instead, he said Canada needs to have a reliable, self-sustaining supply rather than importing plasma products.

“About 85 per cent of the plasma-derived medicinal products used in Canada are manufactured from paid plasma collected in the United States,” he said in an interview.

“The rate of self-sufficiency in Canada has consistently been going down and we think that it’s best to have a home-grown industry regulated and supervised by Health Canada.”