Based on donation records published by the Plasma Protein Therapies Association (PPTA), source plasma donations have almost tripled since 1999 (figure 1). In just 15 years, plasma donations have ballooned from 11.4 donations per year to 32.6 donations per year. As the number of Americans living in extreme poverty has risen in the past two decades, it may not come as a coincidence that the number of people donating plasma has also increased dramatically. Donating plasma has seemingly become an economic coping strategy for the poor, those who may have no recourse but to donate their blood in exchange for cash earnings. Commercial plasma donation centers compensate donors for their time; a single donation can garner a payment of $20-$50 and FDA regulations permit donors to give plasma up to twice a week. Additional earnings can be generated from a variety of promotions, including bonus payouts and rewards programs that are meant to lure new donors and incentivize repeat donors. As such, plasma donation earnings can add up to a few hundred dollars a month, a lifeline for many who have limited or no other sources of income.
Today, there are over 500 commercial plasma donation centers scattered across the country, most of which are disproportionately positioned in or around poor areas, where the most likely donors, the impoverished, reside. Of these centers, 100 opened their doors during the Great Recession and almost 200 have opened within the last decade. Countless more centers are expected to open in the years to come as pharmaceutical companies attempt to keep up with the demand for therapies and medications that treat people with rare, chronic diseases and disorders. As plasma donation centers expand, they will likely continue to be frequented by those in desperate need of immediate cash.
*Source for 1999-2002 figures: "FDA Considerations Regarding Frequent Plasma Collection Procedures" Alan E. Williams, Jan 2013 http://www.ihn-org.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/4-WilliamsFreqPlasma-2-21-131.pdf
*Source for Source for 2003-2014 figures: Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association http://www.pptaglobal.org/images/Data/Plasma_Collection/U.S._Total_Collections_2003-2014_1.pdf