Health Ministry in bloody money deal

Plasma export to india
By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Human plasma, extracted from blood donated to the National Blood Transfusion Service during campaigns to collect blood for security force personnel and for Thalassemia patients, has been exported to a private company in India – with a health union accusing the ministry of indulging in a bloody betrayal.

The first consignment of 750 litres of Human Plasma had been exported in May last year in the last days of the war with the LTTE when injured soldiers were still needing blood.

A letter accompanying the consignment from the Director of the Blood Transfusion Service to the Director General of Customs stated that the Blood Transfusion Service and the Ministry of Health had reached an agreement with the Indian company, Reliance Life Sciences Pvt Ltd to carry out product development using Sri Lankan human plasma. This was to be a pilot project in helping Sri Lanka become self sufficient in plasma derived products. The local facilitators were named as ABC Pharma Services (Pvt) Ltd.

But the All Ceylon Health Services Union which has unearthed the transaction has raised questions about the money transaction that had taken place.

“By selling plasma it is questionable how we can be self sufficient. How did the Ministry determine the price for the priceless plasma? Was there a technical committee appointed to evaluate it? Who decided to send this plasma to other countries? This is clearly a violation of the rights of the people who donated their blood for a worthy cause. The officials have clearly misled the Customs,” ACHSU President Gamini Kumarasinghe said.

“Usually an individual donor gives 500 ml of blood. From that, from 250 ml to 300 ml of Plasma is taken out. Blood from four people can thus one litre of plasma. This means that the blood donated by more than 3,000 has been misused,” he said.

The Union leader said the Health Ministry haf earned more than Rs. 680,000 from around 1000 litres of plasma from 5000 pints of blood sent to an Indian company with the local facilitator being a pharmaceutical company involved in bringing drugs to Sri Lanka.

“We need to strengthen laws that prohibit such sale of blood plasma to other countries. It is clear that the minister, ministry secretary and several other officials are involved in it. We will go to courts if the Health Ministry does not give a valid explanation,” he said.

Union officials display the note to Customs at a news conference

The National Blood Transfusion Act was not passed in Parliament and still remains as a bill.

However National Blood Transfusion Services Director Dr. Ananda Gunasekara said that as Sri Lanka did not have the technical facility the ministry had to send plasma to other countries to obtain plasma derived products.

He said there was no legal or ethical problem or any violation of the rights of an donor. Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva when contacted by the Sunday Times yesterday said he was unaware of the transaction and would have to check with his officials tomorrow to make a comment.

During the final phases of the war a large number of blood donation campaigns were organised to collect blood from donors, but most of the donors were unaware that plasma was being exported even before the war ended and when soldiers were still receiving treatment in hospitals.

Fact box

  • Blood plasma is the colourless liquid part of blood, in which the blood cells, etc. float.
  • It is the liquid component of whole blood that contains nutrients, glucose, proteins, minerals, enzymes and other substances.
  • Albumen which is the most abundant protein in the plasma is commonly used to replenish and maintain blood volume after traumatic injury and during surgery.
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