Fears over closure of blood plasma collection centres
Guizhou province, which supplies as much as 30 per cent of the country's blood plasma, has shut 80 per cent of its blood collection market in a sudden move that has sparked nationwide concern.
It has not only raised the spectre of an imminent blood shortage but also fears that the closure is a pre-emptive measure to prevent the southwestern province from repeating the scandal that occurred in Henan, where in the 1990s tens of thousands of farmers selling blood contracted HIV.
The Guizhou Health Department said in a planning document that it would only allow four counties to set up plasma collection stations. A report by China Merchants Securities said the move had reduced the number of plasma collection stations from 20 previously.
The decision was made out of concern for safety and the 'image of the government', the Beijing News reported yesterday, citing an unidentified biotechnology industry insider.
'Everywhere, officials are worried. They are afraid of another infectious disease scandal. Guizhou is a major plasma supplier and the officials there are even more worried,' the insider said.
Aids activist Chang Kun said the Guizhou government was taking a proactive move before it was too late. 'It's better to shut them down before something serious happens,' Chang said. 'And if an [infectious disease epidemic] happens the government is still in a better position by saying it happened in the past and we have closed them down.'
A Guizhou Health Department official said the adjustment was a 'regular change that takes place every three years' and the dramatic reduction in the number of collection centres was intended to 'keep the Guizhou residents in better health'.
Earlier media reports said county governments had intended to close plasma collection stations on many occasions because there had been irregularities in Guizhou such as collecting too much plasma, or collecting it too frequently, and because of lower criteria for plasma donors.
Plasma is taken from donated blood and the remaining components, mainly red blood cells, are returned to the donor. The plasma is not used in clinical blood transfusions but is sold to companies that produce expensive blood products.
Tens of thousands of poor farmers in Henan contracted HIV in the 1990s after selling plasma at shoddy and illegal collection stations. The scandal prompted the government to shut all plasma collection stations in the province and those services were transferred to Guizhou and Guangxi province.
The latest moves in Guizhou follow a reshuffle of leaders in the province and may have more to do with economics and reputation, the industry insider said. 'The presence of so many plasma collection stations is seen as an indicator of poverty. The new officials may believe that plasma collection contributes little to the local economy and affects the image of Guizhou as well,' he said.
The China Merchants Securities report said the mainland collected between 3,600 and 4,000 tonnes of plasma a year, while demand might run as high as 6,000 tonnes.
The HIV infection rate found in some Henan villages as a result of the blood for cash scandal in the province in the 1990s