There are just two plasma donation centres in B.C.: one in Kelowna, and another in Abbotsford. Volunteers with Our Blood Counts believe a Prince George centre would allow more British Columbians to donate. /SUPPLIED

By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, RMG

A group of volunteers in Prince George say residents of northern B.C. deserve the opportunity to donate blood plasma. However, Canadian Blood Services told The Goat that Prince George is too remote for a plasma donation centre to be cost-effective.

Plasma is a protein-rich component of blood used to create treatments for conditions such as cancer, liver disease, and immune deficiencies, according to Canadian Blood Services. 

While Canadian Blood Services hopes to increase the amount of plasma it collects from Canadian donors to address rising nationwide demand, there are only a handful of plasma donation centres across the country, according to their website. In B.C., there are just two plasma donation centres: one in Abbotsford, and another in Kelowna.

This is why longtime blood donors Mark Karjaluoto and Kelli Smith, alongside other volunteers, teamed up to start Our Blood Counts – a campaign to install a plasma donation centre in northern B.C. Last Sunday, Our Blood Counts released a petition for calling such a centre on Facebook and Reddit, which Karjaluoto says has garnered over 350 signatures.

“It has concerned us that northern B.C. doesn’t have a place where people can go and donate blood,” Karjaluoto told The Goat in a phone interview. “We’ve recently heard that Thunder Bay, Ontario was going to get a blood plasma donor centre, so we’re trying to test the waters in northern B.C. to see the number of people that would support such a centre in Prince George to serve the entire region.”

Karjaluoto isn’t certain that the plasma from this centre will be used in northern B.C.’s hospitals – how the plasma is distributed would fall under the jurisdiction of Canadian Blood Services – but he believes residents of the area would take advantage of the opportunity to donate.

“People in the Robson Valley would be able to use the centre, and we’d hope someone coming into town to Prince George… would be able to tie a blood (plasma) donation into it,” he said. “I think people realize the benefit that it provides.”

Prince George was once the site of northern B.C.’s sole blood donation centre. Canadian Blood Services shuttered the centre in 2015 to save money, according to reporting from the CBC. 

“We understand the cost of getting blood from (Prince George) to Vancouver within a 24-hour period was very expensive and not cost-effective, which is why we’re looking to get a blood plasma clinic,” Smith said.

Karjaluoto added that plasma is easier to transport than blood platelets and red blood cells, which have a respective maximum shelf life of 42 days and seven days, according to Canadian Blood Services.

“Plasma is frozen, sent to a manufacturer, and then turned into medication,” he said. “We think with plasma, there’s still transport involved, but we’re hopeful that it’s less complicated.”

Karjaluoto and Smith are still holding out hope that a substantial show of support from northern B.C. residents will sway Canadian Blood Services to reconsider building a plasma donation centre in Prince George.

“No one’s asked for (a plasma donation centre here) before, and the time just looks right,” said Karjaluoto. “I hope that we build a group of people who see that blood donation, specifically plasma donation, in the North can do a world of good for loved ones and friends across the country.”

However, the Canadian Blood Services media relations team told The Goat in an email that a plasma donation centre in Prince George would not be feasible. Once frozen, plasma must be shipped to one of two centralized testing facilities – either Calgary or Brampton – to be screened before being made into medication, they said.

“More remote geographic locations present substantial logistical hurdles,” they wrote. “The current census metropolitan area population of Prince George, which includes neighbouring communities in the region, is below what is required to support a plasma donor centre.”

There are still ways for northern B.C. residents to make a difference, the organization added.

“We understand not having the opportunity to donate blood or plasma in your home community may be disappointing for some,” the organization wrote. “We are grateful for the show of support from people in Prince George. Although we do not collect blood or plasma in the community, there are other ways community members can help save lives… such as registering to donate stem cells, organs and tissues. Financial gifts to Canadian Blood Services also help make a difference for patients.”