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Red and Black of American Plasma

  ”Donate Plasma: Make Money. Save Lives.”
  Donating plasma can make money and save lives.
  Octapharma, the world’s largest human protein manufacturer, shouted the above slogan on its official website. As reflected in this slogan, in the United States, blood donation is tied to making money: making money comes first, followed by saving lives.
  Octapharma revealed a truth: paid blood donation is always more attractive than unpaid blood donation.
  As the largest exporter of blood products, the United States contributes about 70% of the world’s plasma. And these plasmas – different from people’s usual experience of donating blood – are mostly institutions like Octapharma, which continue to “buy” from the poor.
  Blood is a business.
  Pharmaceutical companies extract proteins from these plasmas, and then make drugs and sell them all over the world. What’s more, they try to delay aging by infusing young people’s plasma.
  Some poor people are selling blood to make a living, and some rich people are buying blood in pursuit of “longevity”.
plasma business

  At a plasma collection center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, the room is filled with black reclining chairs. Robert Matthews was lying in one of the chairs as the phlebotomist stuck a metal needle into the inside of his right elbow.
  The doctor asked Robert to raise his arm, and then let him put it down, reminding him: “Make a fist. Relax.”
  Robert’s palm was up, and his fist was obediently tightened and tightened. Dark red blood flowed from the needle through a plastic tube to a white centrifuge slightly larger than a case of beer.
  A light yellow liquid slowly appeared in the one-liter plastic bottle connected to the white centrifuge. It was Robert’s plasma.
  It only takes about 45 minutes for the one-liter plastic bottle to be filled. Soon after, there will be an extra transfer in Robert’s bank card.

Human protein manufacturer Octapharma

  Some poor people are selling blood to make a living, and some rich people are buying blood in pursuit of “longevity”.

  This is the experience of “donating” plasma told by “blood donor” Robert Matthews and American news host Keith Romer in 2021. The plasma industry nominally insists on calling this a “donation,” but everyone knows it—Robert is actually “selling” the plasma.
  Robert is an electrician. He goes to work during the day and comes to “donate blood” after work at night. It has become part of Robert’s schedule every Tuesday and Friday “like a job”.
  Robert feels that “blood donation” is a pretty good “business”. Your own blood plasma can not only help others, but also bring in an income.
  It’s a win-win thing.
  Moreover, “blood donation” is almost a continuous “business”. Generally speaking, the blood volume of the donor will recover within 1 to 2 hours after donating plasma; if 200 to 300 ml of plasma is collected, it can recover within two weeks without much harm to the body.
  According to the regulations of the American Red Cross, donors can donate plasma once every 28 days, up to 13 times a year. But many private organizations actually follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s rule that donors can donate plasma twice a week, up to 104 times a year.
  Every month, Robert can earn hundreds of dollars by “donating blood”. Compared with the minimum wage of US$7.5 per hour in the United States, it takes less than an hour for Robert to “donate” blood, and he can easily get paid ranging from US$30 to US$50.
  According to a rough estimate by the British media based on the amount of plasma collected each year, as many as 20 million people in the United States donate plasma in a year, either paid or unpaid.
  Most people who “donate blood” frequently like Robert have financial problems. According to a market report, approximately 70% of plasma collection centers in the United States are located in areas with higher-than-average poverty rates.
  An article in the American media in 2015 pointed out: “‘Blood donation’ is very common among the extremely poor in the United States, and has even become an important source of income for them.”
  Compared with those companies that “buy blood”, the money Robert received It is simply “insignificant”. Blood products are the twelfth largest US export.
  In 2016, blood products accounted for more of all U.S. exports than soybeans and computers.
  Currently, only five countries, the United States, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic, allow paid “donation” of plasma—or, in other words, payment for plasma. Among them, the plasma production in the United States accounts for 70% of the global total.
  People in the industry joked that the United States is simply the OPEC of the plasma industry.
where did the blood go

  The plasma that Robert “donates” at the plasma collection center is generally frozen and then sold to pharmaceutical companies to extract various proteins to make drugs. The drugs could end up being sold to hospitals across the U.S. or shipped around the world.
  At B Positive Plasma, the Cherry Hill Plasma Collection Center, the walls are covered with medical-like beige. The plasma collected that day was stored in a freezer at minus 40°C, with the aim of cooling it down to the target temperature of minus 25°C as soon as possible. A freezer next door holds plasma ready for shipment.

blood products

  ”Donating blood shouldn’t make anyone any worse.”

  There are thousands of bottles between the two freezers. According to Benjamin Rood, CEO of B Positive Plasma, the price of each bottle is 20 to 100 US dollars.

  B Positive Plasma ships about 80 cases a week, each containing 15 one-liter vials of plasma — or about 1,200 vials per week, each of which can fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
  Plasma is an important source of medicine for patients suffering from immunodeficiency, hemophilia, neurological diseases, liver and kidney diseases, cancer and other diseases. Globally, the most widely used plasma protein product is immunoglobulin. Canadian Blood Services estimates that about half of the patients in the country who take immunoglobulins are completely unable to get off the drugs.
  According to a report released by BCC Research, a well-known market research institution, in March 2023, the global market for plasma products has reached US$31.4 billion in 2021. Whenever scientists make new breakthroughs and discover new treatments, the global demand for plasma rises.
  The market size is expected to grow to USD 45.7 billion by 2027.
  More plasma collection centers are also set to open in the United States. In 2005, there were only about 300 plasma collection centers in the United States. By May 2021, the number has grown to more than 900. According to British media reports in March 2023, there are already more than 1,000 paid plasma collection centers in the United States, and most of them are concentrated in poorer areas and university towns.
  Once blood plasma is traded with money, it naturally has the attributes of a commodity. During the new crown epidemic, the exploration of “plasma therapy” even led to a “premium” for plasma.
  Soon after the outbreak, about 1,500 hospitals in the United States launched large-scale research and trials to try to use the plasma of recovered patients to treat new coronary pneumonia. At that time, the remuneration for “donating” plasma in the United States rose to 100-200 US dollars.
  However, the too loose donation conditions have also aroused people’s concerns: Is the health status of the “blood donor” qualified?

On January 11, 2022, in San Francisco, USA, people “donate blood” at a blood bank

  According to the requirements, the plasma collection center will check the “blood donors” every four months to ensure that they are in good health. But others think that every four months may not be enough.
  The health of donors is equally worrisome.
  Many people who often “donate” plasma have symptoms such as migraines, numbness and fainting.
“Modern Vampire”

  As early as the last century, some people voiced opposition to paid blood donation.
  In the 1960s and 1970s, plasma companies, like many other industries, began to realize the possibility of globalization—in developing countries outside the United States, plasma might be cheaper.
  Thus, the United States aimed at Nicaragua. A friend of then-President Anastasio Somoza took the opportunity to set up a huge plasma collection center. He wants to obtain cheap blood plasma this way, and then sell it to large international pharmaceutical companies.
  The plasma collection center in Nicaragua operates 24 hours a day, and thousands of people come to “donate blood” every week. A media editor’s investigation found that the “blood donors” were alcoholics and extremely poor people, many of whom had health problems. There have even been allegations that someone died instantly while donating blood.
  People called this place “Casa de Vampiros”, which means “house of the vampire”.
  On January 10, 1978, the newspaper editor who exposed the incident was shot dead by three men on the street with a shotgun. His funeral turned into a riot that eventually burned a plasma collection center in Nicaragua to the ground.
  This is not an isolated incident.
  Plasma has always been a scarce commodity sought after by various researchers and plasma companies. Especially the plasma of young people is regarded as a “longevity medicine” to delay aging.
  Academic research has long found that blood circulation in young mice both extends the lifespan and enhances tissue function in older mice. Based on these studies, companies such as Ambrosia have begun trials of infusing blood plasma from young people to the elderly.
  In 2018, Ambrosia, a start-up company in Monterey, California, completed a clinical trial in which plasma from young donors aged 16 to 25 was transfused to about 80 people over the age of 35, who each paid the company $8000. In the same year, Dr. Maharaj in Florida also conducted a similar experiment and charged participants as high as $285,000.
  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned about such experiments. In August 2019, Ambrosia was forced to stop. However, under the anxiety of global “aging”, some scientists are still studying the secret of “longevity” in blood plasma.
  Concerns about the pay-for-plasma collection model are palpable:
  Will it entice people too ill to donate blood? Will unhealthy blood donors lie that they are not sick in order to make money? Does this blur the original intention of people donating and using blood?
  In 1970, British sociologist Richard Titmars proposed in his book “Gift Relationships: From Human Blood to Social Policy” that the blood supply system in the United States caused the rate of hepatitis infection among blood transfusion recipients to be four times that of the United Kingdom. The reason is that the United States is paid blood donation, while the United Kingdom is voluntary blood donation.
  On June 14, 2009, World Blood Donor Day, the World Health Organization issued the Melbourne Declaration against paying for blood plasma. At the time, almost all countries supported the WHO statement, eventually including Nicaragua.
  But America is an exception. To this day, American companies continue to pay for donated plasma.
  Some people argued for paid donations: “With the improvement of medical services in developing countries, the global demand for plasma is also growing. If the plasma supplied by paid blood donors is lost, only the rich can afford plasma treatment.” This is a kind
  of practical considerations. But opponents believe that this behavior of tying blood donation with financial rewards will just make the number of unpaid blood donors less and less.
  The World Health Organization hopes that every country can achieve 100% unpaid blood donation. The organization believes this is the foundation of a safe and sustainable blood supply.
  ”Donating blood shouldn’t make anyone any worse,” said Mario Mathis, an economist at Johns Hopkins University.

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