Thursday, July 21, 2022

Blood Money

 It was reported in 2019 that thousands of Mexicans were crossing the border to donate blood as often as twice a week, earning as much as $400 per month. Selling blood has been illegal in Mexico since 1987. The Mexican nationals selling their blood previously entered the U.S. on what are known as B-1 or B-2 visas, documents that allow visitors to shop, do business or visit tourist sites.

Since the United States blocked Mexicans from entering the country to sell their blood, the two global pharmaceutical companies, Grifols and CSL, that operate the largest number of plasma clinics along the border say they have seen a sharp drop in supply.

The companies acknowledged for the first time the extent to which Mexicans visiting the U.S. on short-term visas contribute to the world’s supply of blood plasma. The companies revealed that up to 10 percent of the blood plasma collected in the U.S. — millions of liters a year — came from Mexicans who crossed the border with visas that allow brief visits for business and tourism.

The drug companies have said in court filings that the sharp reduction in Mexicans selling blood to the border clinics is contributing to a worldwide shortage of plasma and is “precipitating a worldwide public-health crisis that is costing patients dearly.

Many countries place strict limits on blood donations — Germany, for example, allows a maximum of 60 donations per year with intensive checkups before every fifth donation. But the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require comparable donor checkups and allows people visiting American clinics to sell their blood twice a week, or up to 104 times a year. The limits that other countries set on blood donations have made the U.S. one of the world’s leading exporters of blood. In 2020, U.S. facilities collected 38.2 million liters of plasma for the production of medicine, accounting for approximately 60% of such blood plasma collected worldwide.

A statement from a company executive for Grifols disclosed that at the company’s Texas centers alone, there were “approximately 30,000 Mexican nationals donating and supplying over 600,000 liters of plasma [a year].”

According to Grifols and CSL, the 24 border centers run by Grifols alone account for an “annual economic impact of well over $150 million” and represent approximately 1,000 jobs. Grifols and CSL “have also spent ‘several million dollars in the last several years’ on advertising to encourage Mexican citizens to donate plasma in exchange for payment at the centers located along the border.” The trade organization for the pharmaceutical companies, the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association, said there are 52 plasma centers in the border zone, and “the average center along the border collects higher than average (31% more) plasma than the average center nationwide.”

 In 2021 the Border Patrol issued internal guidance that barred short-term visa holders from selling blood. On June 14, 2021, CBP sent out “clarifying guidance” that selling plasma on a visitor visa was not allowed. Since then, donations at border centers have dropped dramatically. The pharmaceutical companies told the court that a survey of 12 centers in Texas found a 20 percent to 90 percent decline. “One particularly large center, which normally collects 5000+ donations per week, has decreased to a level closer to 200,” said the plasma association president, Amy Efantis.

Pharma Companies Sue for the Right to Buy Blood From Mexicans Along Border — ProPublica

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