Saturday, July 17, 1999 Published at 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Canada blood row intensifies
By Lee Carter in Toronto
Canada's new National Blood Agency is facing growing criticism following a proposed ban on donors who have spent more than six months in the United Kingdom.
A prominent board member has resigned from the agency, which was created last September in the wake of a scandal where tens of thousands of Canadians were infected with Hepatitis B or the HIV virus between 1986 and 1990.
Canadian Blood Services took over the country's blood distribution system from the discredited Canadian Red Cross after it had been proven that a poor screening process and a subsequent cover-up had caused the infected blood scandal.
Durhane Wong-Rieger was the head of the Canadian Haemophilia Society and one of the harshest critics of the Red Cross.
But now she has resigned from the board of the new agency because she says it is putting lives at risk.
She says the agency is secretive and unaccountable and has particularly attacked its plans to ban blood donations by people who have spent six months or more in the United Kingdom since 1980.
Fears over Mad cow disease
Canadian Blood Services says it is worried that these people may have contracted the human version of Creutzfeld-Jakob or Mad Cow disease by eating British beef.
Ms Wong-Rieger says that the ban will lead to a 15% shortage of blood in Canada.
" If I thought this measure were to add one wit of safety to the blood system I would say yes, obviously we ought to do it.
"This is a measure that adds no safety to the system and will place the system at great risk in terms of losing a lot of donors that we cannot recover easily."
Canada's Health Minister, Allan Rock, has refused to comment on the allegations.
A spokesman for Canadian Blood Services, Dr Harvey Schipper, defends the plan as a sensible temporary measure, although he acknowledges that Canada's blood supply could be under stress as a result.
Dr Schipper claims that the United States is considering a similar screening of British blood donors and that the proposal is simply an effort to harmonise the approach of the two countries.