Monday 15 June 2020

Bloody Well Pay Them

Georgetown's Peter Jaworski's produced an excellent report on the need for compensation for blood plasma donors. The report was released yesterday by the Adam Smith Institute, in conjunction with the Niskanen Centre and the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance. 

Despite New Zealand’s prohibition on donor compensation, or perhaps rather because of it, about an eighth of New Zealand’s needs for plasma therapy are filled by imported American supplies that rely on compensated donors. The New Zealand Blood Service’s May 2020 Annual Statement of Performance Expectations considered the annual increase in demand for immunoglobulin (an important plasma product) to be “not considered sustainable”; imports are expected to make up over 15 per cent of New Zealand’s needs by 2022.

Reliance on American blood plasma products is even heavier elsewhere: the report tells us that America now supplies about 70 per cent of global need for plasma product – in part because American companies have expertise unavailable in developing countries for providing safer products, but more fundamentally because donor compensation helps ensure sufficient supply.

Developed countries with no shortage of expertise also rely heavily on American plasma imports.

The report tells us that the United Kingdom, which prohibits donor compensation, relies almost entirely on American blood plasma products; imported American plasma product meets over 80 per cent of Canada’s need for plasma therapy – and over half of Australia’s.

In one sense, there may be nothing particularly wrong with this.

Some people, particularly medical ethicists, think it is fine to pay phlebotomists to collect blood but that it is wrong to pay the people providing the blood or plasma.

Those with such views get to be happy that policy accords with their sense of morality – so long as they don’t look too closely at where we wind up finding plasma products instead. And ability to access American markets where donors are compensated means that we in New Zealand are less likely to fall short despite our country’s ban on donor compensation. But there are other and worse consequences.

The ASI report argues that bans on donor compensation in places like the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which are perfectly capable of making their own immunoglobulin products, push up the price of plasma products for poorer countries without those capabilities.

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