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FTA threatens blood supply: study

Sydney Morning Herald

FTA threatens blood supply: study

July 14, 2006

The safety of the Australian blood supply could be jeopardised under the free trade agreement with the United States, researchers have warned.

Under the Australia United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), the federal government agreed to recommend to the states and territories that Australia’s blood product arrangements be opened up to overseas tender.

In particular, the process of plasma fractionation - the large-scale separation of blood into a number of proteins for medical use - could be taken offshore for the first time.

Researchers at Australian National University (ANU) have warned that transporting plasma over longer distances would leave it vulnerable to error and loss.

Increased economic competition could lead to inappropriate cost-cutting in manufacture, and Australia would have difficulty monitoring the situation, they claimed in a Medical Journal of Australia article published online.

Lead author Dr Hilary Bambrick said such a move also could lead to a decline in Australia’s regulatory standards as products become subject to international trade dispute rulings.

"Australia has been forced to compromise on quarantine in the past, and similar pressures could be applied to blood products once trade is opened up," Dr Bambrick said.

"You can have all the regulatory requirements that you like, but with a more open market we could see the eventual erosion of Australia’s blood safety standards."

At present, Australian company CSL Limited is the sole provider of plasma fractionation services under an agreement with the federal government.

The authors claim that if Australia loses its capacity to manufacture plasma products, it may never be revived - a concern in today’s uncertain security environment.

They also warned that New Zealand may be forced to "piggy-back" with new Australian arrangements because of the recent agreement to establish a single, joint body that would regulate blood products in both countries.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal echoed the concerns, calling for the nation’s blood product services to remain self-sufficient.

"Blood products have inherent dangers because we can only test for illness we already understand, and take action to avoid illness through either screening of blood or declining certain high risk people as donors," Dr Haikerwal said.

"The strict rules that are used to screen Australians before donation and their blood after donation keep the risks to a minimum.

"We cannot guarantee the same levels of screening for any imported blood product."

The review into plasma fractionation arrangements is due to report to the federal government in January.

 source: Sydney Morning Herald