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The Interlinkage between Blood Plasma Donation and Poverty

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By Analidis Ochoa, H. Luke Shaefer, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor


In 2019, plasma centers in the United States received a record 53.5 million paid plasma donations, roughly three times than what was recovered during the Great Recession. (Plasma Protein Therapies Association 2011 and 2019). The number of plasma donation centers has expanded from fewer than 300 in 2005 to over 900 in 2020, supporting a growing industry that was worth $4 billion in 2008, $21 billion in 2016, and is forecast to reach $48 billion by 2025 (Hotchko and Robert 2018, Market Research Engine 2020, Mitchum 2008, U.S. Food Drug Administration 2020, Wellington 2014). Ethnographic research and journalistic accounts suggest a key motivating factor fueling plasma donation in the U.S. is the financial compensation associated with the transaction (Edin & Shaefer 2015, Goldstein 2017, Guendelsberger 2019, Kretzmann 1992, Tirado 2014, Valiente, Abdelmalek, & Pearle 2017).

These accounts suggest paid plasma donation has become a common economic coping strategy among Americans with low incomes, who over the past decades have experienced high rates of poverty and hardship, steep increases in the costs of essential expenses, declines of the cash safety net, and a corresponding rise in extreme poverty (Edin & Shaefer 2015, Valiente, Abddelmalek, & Pearle 2017, Wellington 2014, Woolf, Johnson, & Geiger 2006). Because U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations permit American donors to sell plasma up to twice a week (US FDA 2019), these donations can add a few hundred dollars a month to household income, an important source of economic support for families with very low incomes. During the COVID-19 era, increased demand for blood products and a new recession will likely only intensify this reality.

Despite the large growth in plasma donations since the Great Recession, recent existing
literature has not examined the demographic characteristics of the growing number of plasma donors, reportedly Americans with low incomes who are already prone to poor health outcomes (National Center for Health Statistics 2012). Such evidence would hold clear public health implications, particularly given the limited evidence on the impact of plasma donation on donor health. In the absence of publicly available data on the characteristics of plasma donors, this study examines the socioeconomic characteristics of the communities where plasma centers are situated

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