Coronavirus India: Rush for plasma therapy as Covid-19 cases increase

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Delhi government urged recovered patients to come forward and donate plasma


It was in the middle of a May night when Adwitiya Mal’s stepfather complained of breathing difficulties.

The family doctor examined him and advised him to wait a few hours for him to stabilize. But by early morning, his blood oxygen level had dropped and he had to be rushed to Delhi hospital. He also suffered from a high fever.

His condition continued to deteriorate and the doctor asked the family for permission to give him convalescent plasma – one of the many experimental therapies tried in India. in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The therapy, which uses plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients, requires the consent of patients and their families.

When people have Covid-19 or other viral diseases, their immune system responds by creating antibodies that attack the virus. Over time, antibodies build up and can be found in the plasma – the liquid part of the blood.

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Several countries have agreed to give plasma therapy to patients as experimental therapy


Plasma therapy is not new. German physiologist Emil von Behring won the Nobel Prize in 1901 for its use in the treatment of diphtheria. It was also used during the Spanish flu in 1918.

Mr. Mal’s family gave their consent, but the hospital had no donors and asked them to find one. “We didn’t know where to start, so we called everyone we knew and posted a call on social media,” he says.

They finally found a donor and the patient survived – but experience broke them. Mr. Mal’s family struggled because few patients who had recovered from Covid-19 were ready to return to the hospital to donate plasma.

Almost two months later, the gap between demand and supply of plasma has widened further. Many Indian states have asked hospitals to participate in clinical trials. But some states seem more eager than others.

Maharashtra and Delhi – two of India’s most affected states – have not only supported therapy, but have also set up plasma banks.

Doctors are also authorized to prescribe treatment for moderate patients who do not show improvement with other treatments.

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Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar recently opened a plasma bank in Mumbai


Dozens of studies are being conducted on therapy worldwide. But experts warned that it was not a quick fix. Doctors around the world have not dismissed the idea, but say the initial results from ongoing studies are inconclusive.

Delhi-based virologist Dr Shahid Jameel says it is too early to have definitive conclusions if therapy can be considered a proven remedy.

“Such studies require extensive clinical trials with a large and diverse group of people, and then it takes time to assess these results,” he says.

One of the previous studies was done in China and showed positive clinical improvement. But he also noted that all of the patients who recovered during the trial also received a variety of therapies in addition to plasma.

Professor Anthony Gordon, who heads intensive care at Imperial College London and runs a clinical trial in the UK, says “We don’t know for sure if it works yet.”

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Experts say donating plasma is safe and poses no health risk


While most countries are taking a cautious approach to therapy, India not only seems to trust it, but politicians have actively touted it as life-saving treatment. And that put pressure on the country’s doctors.

Dr. Sushila Kataria, director of intensive care at Medanta Hospital, says that more and more patients and their families are now requesting plasma therapy.

She says it has been “over-meditated” and that people have started taking it as a proven treatment.

Dr A Fathudden, head of intensive care at Ernakulam Medical College, also said that the effectiveness of the therapy remains to be proven.

“It should not be given beyond the scope of clinical trials at this time. We need more data and understanding. Families should never be told that this therapy is a magic wand, ”he says.

But despite the cautious approach, the demand for plasma from Covid-19 patients recovered in India has skyrocketed in recent weeks. And it was this growing demand that prompted Mr. Mal to launch his Dhoond website, which aims to match donors to patients.

“My own experience made me realize that this gap had to be closed. But there were so many challenges – normal people signed up initially thinking it was for blood donation, “he said.

He now has a team of volunteers to ensure that only the right donors are matched with the recipients.

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Indian Ministry of Health Authorized Plasma Treatment As Experimental Therapy


But demand still exceeds supply over a long distance, he says, adding that they are only able to meet 100-150 requests per 1000.

There are others, like Delhi lawmaker Dilip Pandey who receives hundreds of calls from desperate families every day. Mr. Pandey kept a meticulous record of each Covid-19 patient recovered in his region and beyond. But fear has driven many.

“If I had a list of 500 people recovered, half would not qualify for medical reasons and a majority would be too afraid to return to the hospital,” he said.

He also made people on social media come forward, but had to face disappointment many times. It was painful for him to refuse to the families who had approached him, considering plasma therapy as their last hope.

Epidemiologist Dr. Lalit Kant says that families cannot be blamed.

“When you read so much about therapy in the newspapers, you start to believe it beyond any doubt,” he says.

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