“It’s the same with blood. Blood always replenishes itself. The more you take, the more it flows.”“Dream of Ding Village”, Lianke
Yan Lianke’s Ding village is one driven by blood, the value of plasma and the promise of prosperity it provides. The HIV/AIDS crisis fueled by this fever for donation and compensation was a harsh learning lesson written into history, however the very demand created by the plasma economy that caused the outbreak is still pulsing.
A recent report analyzing the effects of the COVID-19 on the plasma fractionation economy estimated the current global value of the market to be 22.1 Billion (USD), and projected that by 2027 it would only grow to 31.9 Billion (USD). The plasma of blood, a mixture of water, proteins, antibodies, and other essential components is the liquid gold behind this industry and its continual expansion. For diseases like COVID, antibodies from recovering patients may even save the lives of others and people were actively encouraged to donate blood as the pandemic continues. Synthetic alternatives are still being developed but are unable to emulate the expansive array of functions and dynamic composition that make it life-saving. In such circumstances, what happens when a price tag is stuck on a blood bag?
Kathleen Mclaughlin’s journey as a blood smuggler caught between China and the US sheds a personal light into the consequences of this huge economy. She pinpoints an interesting parallel focusing on compensation for plasma ‘donation’:
“She gets about $300 a month for her plasma twice a week, a number determined by a formula that targets people just on the edge of getting by, where a few hundred dollars makes a major difference. The pay scale in China 23 years ago was calculated much the same way; enough to make life easier, not enough to earn your way out of selling blood.”“My career as an international blood smuggler” McLaughlin, Gaurdian
This draws attention back to Lianke’s writing: “Rich or poor, it was their decision” (35). But this clearly wasn’t true and still isn’t. The systems designed to keep people reliant on donating are still persistent and when your livelihood depends on your ability to provide plasma, are you ever given the economic independence to ‘decide’?
The economies of health need to be understood better and regulated properly to ensure that the socioeconomic vulnerabilities and their security are driving factors in shaping policies, and not a means of exploitation. Whether it be the needles used for blood collection or the incentives of donation, each component in the process requires careful scrutiny and apprehension as the economy expands. The solution, then, lies in the mistakes and markets of the past.