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B.C. considers paying donors for blood products despite Ontario, Quebec bans

Health Minister Terry Lake is open to allowing a pay-for-plasma clinic in British Columbia. Photo by Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Health Minister Terry Lake is open to allowing a pay-for-plasma clinic in British Columbia, saying the province already gets about 85 per cent of its supply from the United States, where donors are paid for blood products.

He said Winnipeg is among the Canadian cities that have such a clinic and that the practice could happen in B.C.

"We just need to ensure that if something like this were to happen that all the quality parameters are in place and both the donors and recipients can be assured that this is the highest quality kind of practice in the world," Lake said.

Canadian Plasma Resources, which does not operate the Winnipeg clinic, opened a facility in Saskatoon last month and is considering expanding to B.C.

That has prompted Lake to consult with Canadian Blood Services, the not-for-profit organization that manages the supply of blood and blood products across the country, except in Quebec.

The B.C. Health Coalition has called on the province to follow the lead of Ontario and Quebec, which have banned pay-for-plasma clinics.

The federal NDP also wants Ottawa to ban private, for-profit plasma clinics, citing safety concerns, after Saskatchewan's health minister recently said he supports the clinic in that province.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has said Canada's blood system is among the safest in the world and that the government has examined the issue in great detail to ensure there are no compromises to the public's safety.

Canadian Plasma Resources CEO Barzin Bahardoust said the company has been in talks with the Health Ministry in B.C. since late 2014, about the same time it shut down a pilot project in Toronto after Ontario passed legislation prohibiting compensation for donors.

The company plans to open at least one clinic in the suburban Vancouver area, Bahardoust said in an interview from Hamilton.

"The safety record of these products is excellent and there has never been a case of transmission of disease such as HIV," he said.

"But we still need to get the healthiest donors. It's not just a matter of possibly tainting the finished product, it's also very costly and undesirable for us to get donors that are possibly reactive to certain diseases or to discard the product."

A federal inquiry in the 1990s investigated allegations that contaminated blood and blood products infected thousands of people with HIV and hepatitis C when they received blood transfusions through a system that was managed by the Canadian Red Cross Society.

Bahardoust said applicants are screened and tested on two separate occasions within four months before they can donate plasma, the straw-coloured liquid portion of blood that remains after the red and white blood cells and platelets have been removed.

The process takes about 90 minutes, and donors get $25 in the form of a tax receipt per donation, or a reloadable credit card in that amount, which can be used for purchases but not for a cash advance or cash withdrawals, he said.

"In Canada, we don't have specific regulations for compensation," Bahardoust said, adding Germany uses a similar model. (The Canadian Press, CHNL)

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