College students frequently struggle to make ends meet and often live paycheck to paycheck. Some use creative ways to make extra money. Plasma donation centers are well aware of this and prey on students and other impoverished individuals to make a profit.
Plasma is the clear liquid portion of blood that remains once red cells, white cells and platelets have been removed. Medically, it is very useful in treating serious illnesses; however, donation has become an extremely exploitative market.
It may be odd to think about a bodily component as an industry subject to monopolization, but there are currently only five international for-profit corporations in the United States that take such donations and compensate donors for their time. Although compensation may sound attractive, commodification has its dark side.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it safe to donate plasma twice a week; however, the American Red Cross recommends people only donate every 28 days. Local plasma banks highly incentivize frequent donations, even going as far as having “bonus coupons” on their websites to receive extra money on up to four donations every six months.
This is clearly not safe.
Hospitals do not incentivize plasma donations with money. For-profit companies are the only ones to incentivize donations. One could deduce donation centers do not have the best interest of the donors or the medical community in mind.
These pharmaceutical corporations and plasma banks largely target underprivileged communities that depend on extra money to survive. According to ABC, nearly 80 percent of the plasma centers in the U.S. are located in America’s poorer neighborhoods. They also tend to target college students.
“You would not believe the amount of people that pay for coffee and food with plasma cards,” said Rudy Martinez, philosophy junior and Tantra Coffee House employee.
The College Investor, a personal finance website targeting millennials, has an article titled “50+ Ways To Make Money Fast By Side Hustling” in which they list plasma donations as “one of the more interesting ways” to make money. However, the manipulation of college students and impoverished communities is not that interesting.
In fact, it is pretty typical, and even asinine considering these people are the most likely to not be able to afford health insurance and reap the benefits of the very system they are being exploited by.
Obviously it is important for the medical community that people continue to donate plasma; however, the unfair targeting of poor people is highly problematic. No one should be forced to use blood as a financial lifeline multiple times a week. If the point of paying people for their plasma is to help them, then perhaps we should target the actual issues that push people to these conditions.
– May Olvera is a journalism junior