Governments and Canadian Blood Services must act to prevent another tainted-blood crisis

The National Union supports BloodWatch, a national advocacy organization, in its call for federal and all provincial and territorial governments to prohibit paid blood and plasma donations.

Ottawa (10 May 2016) — To protect Canadians, the federal and all provincial and territorial governments must join the provinces of Quebec and Ontario in prohibiting for-profit corporations that pay for blood and plasma donations, says the 360,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). 

Furthermore, NUPGE is concerned about recent comments by Dr. Graham Sher, the CEO of Canadian Blood Services (CBS), that he won't rule out the contentious possibility of paying donors for plasma. NUPGE represents workers in a number of CBS clinics and worksites across Canada.

This issue has become of serious concern following the opening of a for-profit plasma clinic in Saskatchewan. Ontario recently joined Quebec in adding plasma and blood products to its human tissue legislation, thereby prohibiting payment for donations.

Preventing another public health disaster

In the 1980s, tainted blood infected at least 2,000 Canadians with HIV and about 30,000 with Hepatitis C. It is estimated that about 8,000 of those infected died. It has been described as Canada’s worst ever preventable health disaster. 

Canada’s tainted-blood scandal was followed by a public inquiry headed by Justice Horace Krever. The Krever Commission spent 4 years investigating the scandal and one of its recommendations was that donors of blood and plasma products should not be paid.

Canadian Blood Services was established in 1998, on recommendation of the Krever Commission, and “operates Canada’s blood supply in a manner that gains the trust, commitment and confidence of all Canadians by providing a safe, secure, cost-effective, affordable and accessible supply of quality blood, blood products and their alternatives.”

Canadian Blood Services playing a dangerous game

As CEO, Sher may raise warnings about shortages in plasma and blood-related products, yet the actions of CBS paint a worrisome picture. 

The agency has shut down numerous clinics and programs that provided cost-effective measures to collect blood. Existing clinics are often managed in a manner (for example, hours of operation) that makes donating blood difficult for most Canadians.

Meanwhile, workers in the CBS clinic in Prince Edward Island have been on strike since September 2015, seeking to maintain a minimum number of hours for their members, all of whom work part-time. The result has been clinics in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia now operating at overcapacity. And yet, there has been no discussion of settling with the workers in PEI or expanding the number of clinics in Atlantic Canada.

Protecting the blood supply for Canadians is apparently less important to CBS than their bottom line. If they wanted to ensure the security of Canadians’ access to blood and blood products, they would open more donor clinics, improve hours of operation and settle with the striking workers in PEI.

Now is the time for action! 

NUPGE is calling on the Trudeau government and all provincial and territorial governments to fulfill their role in protecting Canadians from another preventable health disaster.

As well as endangering Canadians who need life-saving transfusions and blood-based medicines, paying donors for blood products also preys on the poor and vulnerable in our society. For-profit blood and plasma collection clinics are often established near homeless shelters and addiction treatment facilities.

Join with BloodWatch campaign

NUPGE joins with BloodWatch, an advocacy organization, in the goal to have the federal and all provincial and territorial governments prohibit paid blood and plasma donations and encourages its members to sign the BloodWatch petition supporting that goal.

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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