The World Health Organization (WHO) faces backlash after the US’s withdrawal under President Donald Trump. As an international public health agency, WHO exists for health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and presumably acts as a reliable, trusted, and authoritative source.
However, even at the onset of the pandemic, WHO generated confusion and spread various misinformation, such as the use of masks, and whether COVID-19 is airborne. While every nation relies on the international health organization for health advice, what they get in return are alternative facts frequently unreliable.
Take its move on the blood donation issue. Since adopting World Health Assembly Resolution 28.72 in 1975, WHO has always opposed the proposal of compensating blood and blood plasma donors, and pushing member countries to enact its preferred model of “100 percent voluntary, non-remunerated.”
The model is deeply rooted in the belief that paying donors will attract volunteers with risky lifestyles, resulting in less-safe blood and plasma. The theory may have been correct in the ’70s, and ’80s when the transfusion process was still complicated.
However, the massive advancement in testing and other modern technologies ensures an entirely safe process to take blood and blood plasma from paid donors, and use it safely for the people who need it. Thanks to the advanced viral screening, removal, and inactivation techniques, every national health authority realized that using the blood and blood-plasma of paid donors is as safe as those taken from unpaid donors.
Yet, the decision of WHO remains unchanged, and it has contributed to the global supply shortage. It forces other countries to import their blood plasma from countries with the paid model. The demand growth seeded an unsustainable massive reliance in the US for plasma.
Over seventy percent (70%) of the world’s plasma supply used to produce plasma-derived medicinal therapies such as immunoglobulin, albumin, and clotting factor comes from American paid donors. Only five countries consisting of the US, Germany, Austria, Czechia, and Hungary, are responsible for 90% of the global supply of blood plasma from their paid donors.
Global demand for plasma therapy increases at the rate of six to ten percent (6%-10%) around the world each year, while the countries grow domestic plasma collection at two to five percent (2%-5%).
Thus, the US remains responsible for the increments of plasma supply globally. According to Sanquin, the national blood operator in the Netherlands, the US will account for ninety percent (90%) of Europe’s plasma demands as soon as 2025, a tad higher than 40% today.
The recent pandemic made matters worse. Multiplied demand due to COVID-19 weighted the US for plasma donation. Likewise, plasma therapy- a hyperimmune globulin- has put additional strain on the world’s already scarce supply. The scarcity of plasma in wealthy countries causes prices to go up and make the plasma therapy unaffordable in developing countries.
Why does WHO oppose the idea of paying the plasma donors? The simple answer is that WHO has a misconception of plasma donation for plasma therapies. WHO has firmly pushed its member nations to commit to 100 percent non-remunerated plasma donation and does nothing about the shortfall in the global supply chain.
In 2015, WHO estimated that about 1.4 million people worldwide have a primary immune deficiency (PID), with seventy-five percent (75%) lack access to appropriate plasma therapies. “Without treatment,” the WHO said, “patients with PID have constant life-threatening or life-impairing infections.”
To aim at providing patients peace of mind, and make plasma therapy more affordable, countries such as Canada, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand would need to follow the exact model that the US has been practicing.