Low-income Americans are paid small amounts of money to donate their plasma to foreign-owned corporations in the U.S. that reportedly make $19.7 billion a year.
This is not the same thing as donating blood at hospitals or at the Red Cross that don’t pay people cash, which could create an incentive for people to lie about their health and possibly taint the blood supply.
ABC News notes that tens of thousands of Americans, many of whom are paid low wages by corporations, wait in line for up to two hours to donate their plasma.
The donors are paid $30 to $40 for their time to donate blood plasma. The proteins in blood plasma are used by foreign corporations to manufacture of a wide range of pharmaceuticals.
About 80 percent of the plasma centers are in poorer neighborhoods; poor Americans provide 94 percent of the paid plasma in the world.
Foreign corporations are drawn to the U.S. because the laws are favorable for plasma donations.
Dr. Roger Kobayashi, a clinical professor of immunology at UCLA, questioned the long-term safety of frequent plasma donation to ABC News:
For a majority of people — apparently — it’s relatively safe. We really don’t know what the long-term effects because it’s a relatively new phenomenon…
A simple gift of life has now evolved into a multi-national, highly profitable corporate enterprise. What was once an act of altruism has now evolved into an act of necessity or desperation.
Trade groups such as the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association and Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association — that represent the foreign-owned blood banks — defended plasma donations as vital for saving lives.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, who donated plasma to pay his rent one month, wrote in The Atlantic in 2014 how he and other donors were paid with “a special debit card that extracts a surcharge whenever they use it.”
Wellington also noted: “The number of centers in the United States ballooned during the Great Recession, with 100 new centers opening and total donations leaping from 12.5 million in 2006 to more than 23 million in 2011.”