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MLA Tany Yao tables bill to reverse ban on paid blood donations

Last Updated Jul 10, 2020 at 11:11 am MDT

PHOTO. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao. Supplied by the Government of Alberta.

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao introduced new legislation to the Alberta Legislature.

The private members’ legislation called Bill 204, or the Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act seeks to repeal Bill 3.

The previous NDP government enacted Bill 3 or the Voluntary Blood Donations Act in 2017.

Yao, who is a former paramedic, said he wants to increase the domestic supply of plasma.

“A secure supply of plasma is a cornerstone of a modern twenty-first century health care system. The repeal of the Voluntary Blood Donations Act will help patients by making our plasma supply less dependent on international supply which can be unreliable.”

In 2017, Yao served as the Health Critic for the United Conservatives when Bill 3 passed into law.

“We felt it was really short-sighted, and I continue that thought today. I talked to a lot of patients to rely on these plasma-based products, and we desperately need them.”

On its website, the Alberta NDP said it enacted Bill 3 in 2017 to ensure a healthy stock of voluntary blood donors for Canadian Blood Services.

Immune Globulin

Canada supplies 13.5 per cent of plasma required for Immune Globulin (IG) production and other plasma-based therapies.

Yao said Canada is second to the United States in terms of buying plasma-based products.

The human body normally produces immunoglobulin to neutralize pathogens like viruses and harmful bacteria.

Immunodeficiency Canada said Primary Immunodeficiency affects one in 1200 individuals.

“This past summer, Canada experienced its first ever IG shortage.” Said Whitney Goulstone, Executive Director of the Canadian Immunodeficiencies Patient Organization (CIPO).

The shortage impacted Ontarian IG patient Kate Van der Meer and her family.

She would drive almost two hours to Hamilton for IG treatment at least once every month.

Van der Meer said doctors switched her to Subcutaneous Immune Globulin (SCIG), which she could take at home.

“I was originally scheduled to switch to SCIG in May 2019. Due to the shortage, this did not happen. Instead, I had to continue travelling to the hospital every three weeks, and struggle to care for my three young children while recovering from each intravenous infusion.”

Van der Meer said Canadian Blood Services finally allowed the switch to SCIG at the end of September 2019.

Yao said it’s about providing stable access to life-saving medication to all Albertans and Canadians.

“There [were] many hardships for many of our citizens, who rely on these medications. If COVID-19 is related to any of this at all, it just highlights the fact that our international borders can shut down very quickly, and our supply lines can be heavily compromised.”

He added 50,000 Canadians need plasma-based products, but only a fraction received treatment due to the shortage.

Opponents of Bill 204, such as Sandra Azocar, questioned the timing of Yao’s private members’ bill.

Azocar is the Executive Director of the non-profit group, Friends Of Medicare.

“It is shameful and appalling to see this pandemic used to further bring profit into our health care system, especially in a way that directly threatens our blood supply. Given its political bent on privatizing Alberta’s public resources, it is not surprising that our current government sees no problem with commodifying our blood, and opening up our province to this huge, exploitative, multi-billion dollar market of plasma sale.”

The group asked Health Canada to revoke licenses for the practice of paid blood donations.

Yao addressed the claims from Azocar and Friends of Medicare.

“Quite honestly, Canadian Blood Services is a valued organization by all Canadians. This is a non-partisan issue. This is about ensuring that we have good access to the medications that come from these plasma-based products, and Canadians desperately need them.”

He tabled Bill 204 in the Alberta Legislature on July 8, 2020.

The bill goes before a health committee next week.

If all goes well, Yao said the Alberta Legislature could approve the bill in the fall session at the earliest.