“The Blood Business", a Swiss documentary currently being shown by Yle, focuses on the plasma collection activities of large multinational plasma pharmaceutical plants, particularly with regard to the payment of donors. In Finland, the voluntary and unpaid nature of blood donation, and attending to donors’ wellbeing, form the cornerstones of our operations.
In the United States, donors can donate plasma up to twice a week for a fee. The documentary is important in highlighting the moral and ethical issues that can be associated with fee-based plasma donation.
In Finland, the voluntary and unpaid nature of blood donation, and attending to donor wellbeing, have always been non-negotiable issues which form the cornerstones of our operations. Finnish law forbids paying a fee for blood donations. Unlike the examples from the United States shown in the programme, donors in Finland do not have the option of donating only plasma. Anyway, plasma separated from whole blood donations is used for the manufacture of medicines for Finland.
Continuous demand for plasma
There are different views and varying legislation around the world on the ethical principles related to fee-based plasma donation. In many countries, donors are compensated for issues such as lost time and travel expenses. Each country, including the United States, is governed by local laws and regulations with regard to donation intervals and payment for plasma donations.
In various countries, the fee-based collection of plasma seems unavoidable due to the fact that sufficient plasma could not otherwise be collected to meet the needs of patients. Furthermore, Europe is not self-sufficient in plasma, but is dependent on American plasma. The ethical aspect is complicated by the fact that plasma pharmaceuticals are very important and even critical, living-saving products for many patients. For example, albumin, immunoglobulin, and coagulation factor preparations for the treatment of serious diseases (such as haemorrhagic diseases, immunological diseases and antibody deficiencies) are made from plasma.
Finland does not have its own plasma pharmaceutical manufacturing
The European Council of Ministers and the WHO recommendations provide guidance to Member States on the separation of plasma from whole blood, in order to secure the supply of plasma pharmaceuticals. Finland has had no plasma pharmaceutical production since 2005, and must therefore rely on foreign plasma pharmaceutical manufacturers in order to make use of plasma separated from donated blood.
Blood Service prepares actual blood products, i.e. red blood cell and platelet preparations, from donated blood in their own production plant, and deliver them to Finnish hospitals for the benefit of patients. We currently deliver plasma separated from whole blood to Baxalta, part of the Shire Group, for further processing.