Who Profits from Plasma Donations on the US/Mexico Border?

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Mexican citizens are crossing the border to donate their blood plasma at various US donation sites established by Big Pharma, according to an October 2019 report from ProPublica. “Donate” is the word being used by these companies, but Mexicans are selling their plasma, and the incentives associated with ‘donation,’ including referral bonuses, keep increasing.

US pharmaceutical companies attract Mexican citizens because plasma donation is illegal in Mexico, and they know these people are in desperate need of extra income. “The donors, including some who say the payments are their only income, may take home up to $400 a month,” ProPublica reported, an amount that exceeds monthly salaries in border-based assembly plants and many middle-class jobs.

Repeated blood plasma donations can be detrimental to donors’ health. Excessive donation can weaken the immune system, making donors more susceptible to diseases and infections. The United States has very little protection for donors and a high limit on the number of donations someone may make per year. According to ProPublica, “Unlike other nations that limit or forbid paid plasma donations at a high frequency out of concern for donor health and quality control, the U.S. allows companies to pay donors and has comparatively loose standards for monitoring their health.” Even though it takes a tremendous toll on their bodies, it is one of the quickest ways for migrants to meet expenses.

This donation cycle benefits American and European companies and does not negatively affect US citizens, so there are few direct incentives for government officials or the pharmaceutical industries to change this system.

Although this story has received little in the way of establishment news coverage, the El Paso Times, a subsidiary of USA Today, did publish a version of Laruen Villagran’s report for Searchlight New Mexico. In addition to the sources cited here, independent coverage includes reports by Axios, and “Latino USA,” an NPR program.


Dara Lind, “Pharmaceutical Companies are Luring Mexicans Across the U.S. Border to Donate Blood Plasma,” ProPublica, October 4, 2019, https://www.propublica.org/article/pharmaceutical-companies-are-luring-mexicans-across-the-u.s.-border-to-donate-blood-plasma.

Lauren Villagran and Stefanie Dodt, “Blood for Money,” Searchlight New Mexico (in conjunction with ARD German TV), October 22, 2019, https://www.searchlightnm.org/blood-for-money.

Alan Macleod, “Harvesting the Blood of America’s Poor: The Latest Stage of Capitalism,” MintPress News, December 3, 2019, https://www.mintpressnews.com/harvesting-blood-americas-poor-late-stage-capitalism/263175/.

Student Researcher: Meagan Cummins (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)