Save lives. Donate plasma.
That sums up the marketing position of corporate giants behind the plasma industry. And nowhere in the world is plasma heavily extracted and traded than in the United States, where paid American donors provide up to 70 percent of global supply. It is indeed a huge industry, valuing at least $11 billion in 2014, up from $4 billion in 2008.
However, the multibillion-dollar plasma market’s dependency on collecting of plasma from donors with cash problems despite the lack of standardized facilities and competent personnel only created bigger issues. For one, it aided the spread of deadly diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis C among the hemophiliac community.
While it is true that plasma (even whole blood) is such valuable life-saving products, the industry practices used in the production of the majority of blood-related pharmaceuticals could barely guarantee absolute safety of consumers. This is especially true since donors are generally from impoverished communities compelled to lie about their health in order to get paid.
With that, let us look at the different pros and cons of donating plasma, as this gives us a closer view of the industry’s commendable practices and shortcomings. It likewise helps alert the public about the reality of plasma industry and its significance to our overall health.
List of Pros of Donating Plasma
1. It is financially helpful to donors.
Plasma donation pays about $50 per extraction; some pay more, some less. For many donors, the payment goes a long way in paying for food, rent, medicine and other basic needs.
A company disclosed in its website that payment depends on the time it takes to donate, among other factors. This is because the amount of plasma a person can donate depends on his or her body weight, and the heavier the donor the more plasma is collected, and the longer the extraction time, hence the time factor. It added that fees vary each month, by location, and with respect to special promotions.
2. It helps people with medical needs.
Blood plasma is often administered to patients with leukemia or burns, and those who have undergone surgery and other injuries. Plasma is no regular blood component. Plasma or more specifically blood plasma is a yellowish liquid, the protein reserve of the human body, which aids in keeping the body’s electrolyte balance and helps fight infection.
To harvest plasma, blood is extracted from the donor’s body and processed to separate the plasma, then the blood is transfused back into the donor’s body. The harvested plasma is then pooled, stored and prepared for medical consumption.
3. Regular donation improves health.
According to scientific study, regular donation of plasma and even whole blood has health benefits to the donor. Rigid screening allows the donor to know his or her current health status, as well as be alerted of any early signs of disease. By donating plasma or even whole blood, one’s circulatory system is renewed, enabling the body to produce new supply of blood.
4. It allows people to help others.
People often feel good and happy about helping others. In the absence of any monetary possession, many people find it more satisfactory and more meaningful to lend a part of themselves to others as in the case of organ and blood donors. Plasma and other biological components are priceless possessions to give to other people.
5. It is a relatively safe process.
In a typical plasma center, donors go through strict screening to make sure they are in top shape to donate. They must be physically healthy and not engaged with harmful lifestyle such as smoking, having tattoos, drug abuse, etc. Laboratories equipment and tools used in the plasma center are checked for sanitation, safety and functionality. Finally, to guarantee the safety and overall health of donors and their recipients, competent lab personnel handle the screening and extraction processes.
List of Cons of Donating Plasma
1. Its immediate effects on the body are serious.
Possible side effects of donating plasma include dehydration, vein damage, fainting, and fatigue. People who cannot recover properly often feel nauseous and sleepy, and may collapse for several hours. For some donors, they experience side effects that are more serious and would need hospitalization to guarantee recovery. Upon donation, the person experiences reduction in plasma levels and increase in infection risk.
This is especially true to donors who mysteriously pass the screening by covering up or lying about their true health status. A report said that many of the plasma donors in the US are homeless and aged, who are not actually at their prime to donate. Some donors go as far as wearing layers of clothes or ankle weights to cheat on their body mass in order to have the chance to donate plasma and obtain money.
2. The process can be very uncomfortable.
A number of people are outright afraid of a laboratory or hospital setting, more so when they encounter needles. The process involves puncturing of the veins with a 17 or 16-gage needle, which are sufficient to prevent vein damage, except with improper handling.
Then too, donors are required to drink at least two glasses of liquid before extraction to boost their hydration levels, which can be uncomfortable for some people. Finally, there is often a long line of donors at the plasma centers, and a crowded place and long waiting time can be unbearable for many. It takes about 45 minutes to 60 minutes for extraction to complete, notwithstanding the screening time.
3. Unregulated donation is risky to both donors and recipients.
As mentioned, some centers may deliberately bypass the standard screening process and give a go signal to donors who are not supposed to donate because of a host of health issues. This is double jeopardy – causing health risks to both donors and recipients.
Unhealthy donors become more prone to disease and infection, and may even at risk of death, should they be allowed to donate plasma. Even healthy donors who are allowed to donate more frequently than ideal are at risk of health degradation.
In the 1960s, there was HIV outbreak in the US, as about half of hemophiliacs contracted the virus from using bad plasma-based pharmaceutical products. In the 1990s, thousands of Chinese from Henan Province reportedly contracted AIDS and Hepatitis C due to substandard sterilization techniques, needles and blood bags.
4. It depletes the calcium levels in the body.
Plasma centers use sodium citrate and other citric-acid derivatives, blood anticoagulant to make extraction faster and easier. These anticoagulants bond with the calcium in the blood, and ultimately deplete it. People’s reactions to sodium citrate vary, but the usual symptoms include fainting, tingling sensation, numbness, seizures. Other more serious issues include heart arrhythmias, osteoporosis, brittle bones, breathing difficulty, and chronic kidney conditions.
5. It is like body prostitution.
A number of people criticize plasma, blood and organ donation in exchange for money as a form of prostitution. According to critics, many people are forced to “sell” their body parts out of dire poverty and need, and along with giant industry players, this body parts trade is labeled as body parts donation to downplay its social, psychological and financial implications.
With the above list of pros and cons of donating plasma or better known as “plassing”, we should already have basic understanding of whether it is good or not. It is really up to us to decide. The industry is alive and growing, and many people are involved in the trade. However, knowing the risks involved, we should all take great care before we donate plasma or even use plasma-based products.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.