A panic-inducing hunt for plasma and frantic calls

New Delhi: Karan is frantically calling his relatives to get a plasma donor for his mother, who is admitted at a private hospital in Dwarka after doctors at the hospital asked him to arrange one for his ailing mother. Two days of panic and frantically searching for plasma donors have not yielded any results and many others like him have been running from post to pillar looking for donors.

Plasma therapy is the process when plasma of a recently recovered COVID-19 patient is extracted and then transfused to severely ill patients so that the antibodies from the recovered patient's plasma can strengthen the infected patient's immune system.

"If a person with COVID has recovered, then their plasma can be taken and given to a sick patient whose immunity is close to giving up. Under this therapy, it is believed that people who have recovered from coronavirus, develop natural defences to the disease in their blood (antibodies)," said Dr Rahul Bhargava, Director, Haematology, Haemato – Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

Antibodies are found in a part of the blood called plasma. Plasma from blood donated by recovered patients, which contains COVID-19 antibodies can be used to make two preparations, according to Dr. Bhargava.

Plasma donation is fairly simple and only 400 ml is taken in one sitting or as a single donor platelet pheresis. A patient who has finished at least 28 days of recovery is eligible to donate their plasma. However, doctors have said that not many people are stepping up to donate, which is creating panic among residents who are frantically looking for donors.

"Every day I see around eight to ten queries regarding plasma therapy on Twitter. People are not able to find plasma donors for themselves or their family members. To ensure that this process is streamlined, there is an urgent need to set up a COVID plasma registry to reduce patients' suffering from running pillar to post for a donor," Dr Bhargava said.

Moreover, private hospitals have now left it to relatives of admitted COVID patients to arrange for donors, which has left many distressed. "How am I supposed to find a donor? I have contacted so many groups and people but to no avail. One recovered patient even refused to donate," said the relative of a patient who is admitted to Max's Saket facility.

However, many people who are now arranging for donors themselves had to go through the nightmare and have now started initiatives where they try to contact plasma donors and create some sort of a registry. Dr Kanishk Yadav, a nursing officer at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has come up with an initiative to contact plasma donors. "In the last two days, we have had four plasma therapies at the hospital, which was possible with the group where plasma donors contact us," he told Millennium Post. Meanwhile, six COVID-19 patients have received convalescent plasma therapy at Delhi government's LNJP Hospital in the last week, after it was given a nod by ICMR to administer the treatment to a limited 200 recipients.

Social media has also been lately flooded with plasma donor requests. "The problem is people are not aware of it and are scared. But it is completely safe to donate your plasma, it will help someone in need," a doctor from AIIMS said.

However, doctors have said that plasma therapy is still at the initial stages and is not a permanent solution. "What needs to be understood is that plasma therapy may be at a trial stage but if it does not have a positive effect on the patient, it does no harm to the positive patients in any way," said Dr Bhargava. Rajiv's father, who was admitted to a private hospital in the city, for instance, did not respond to the therapy and succumbed to the virus last week. Two Delhi residents, Adwitiya Mal and Mukul Pahwa have also now started a website to help patients here find plasma donors. The website, called Dhoondh, is manned by volunteers and receives around 25-30 requests per day. The founders said that they thought they could solve this problem with information and put in around Rs 2 lakh into it.

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