More Plasma banks coming up as vaccine entry will still take more months

With the launch of India’s first plasma bank, Delhi govt appeals to recovered COVID-19 patients to come forward for the cause. 

But finding donors may remain a daunting task as plasma donations depend on certain conditions. Many are also reluctant to donate fearing a relapse.

Vinod Kumar, a cab driver, faced a double whammy of the nationwide lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic in the last three months. First, Kumar had to keep his four-wheeler off the road following the strict movement restrictions for more than two months, and now, his worst fear has come true — his 63-year-old mother has tested positive for the coronavirus. For more than a week now, Kumar has been frantically looking for a plasma donor for his mother, who is admitted in a private hospital at north-west’s Shalimar Bagh. 

Yogesh Dhakad, a nursing officerat RML Hospital, donates plasma

The Sarita Vihar resident’s search was yet to be over till Sunday, even four days after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on July 2 inaugurated India’s first plasma bank at state-run Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) for treatment of COVID-19 patients. 

“I have been looking for a plasma donor for my mother. She urgently needs the therapy as the doctors have asked me to arrange the plasma at the earliest. Where should I go,” a seemingly exhausted Kumar says. 

While inaugurating the bank, Kejriwal knew it would not be an easy task to convince donors.

The plasma therapy depends on the willingness of recovered patients to donate plasma and finding willing donors has proved a tough prospect on the ground.  

Plasma therapy, a technique that involves delivering antibodies to a person fighting the infection to increase his immune response, has been on at select hospitals in Delhi since April 22.

More than 100 patients have received plasma therapy till last week in the national city.

DS Chahar, a retired Colonel in the Indian Army, is among those lucky patients, who have been administered the Convalescent plasma therapy.  

His son, Ravideep Chahar, a senior officer posted at the DDA, had to run pillar to post before finding a donor. He also expressed gratitude to those who helped him arrange the donor.   

“People helped me a lot in getting the plasma for my father, but there is a need for a robust and easy system for the patients who are looking for plasma. Right now, the process is cumbersome, but people are helpful. There are also rumours that some had complained of health issues after donating their plasma. The government should address this issue,” said Ravideep, whose father is admitted in Max Hospital in Saket.

'It’s important that we as a society come together to lend a helping hand to others. Plasma therapy is being seen as a ray of hope when there are no vaccines available.'Shivangi Saxena, Global Shaper, New Delhi Hub — World Economic Forum

With the active cases of coronavirus in the city crossing 25,000 on Sunday, the demand for plasma therapy is also increasing.

According to experts, the increasing demands for plasma therapy could be an indication of increasing number of serious patients, who are not recovering through usual treatments.

Even Health Minister Satyendar Jain, whose condition had deteriorated after he tested positive, had to be administered plasma therapy.  But the latest eligibility criteria leaves little room for plasma donors. 

Taking advantage 

Even in a pandemic, crooks find a way to dupe innocent people. Recently, the Delhi Police arrested a 22-year-old man, identified as Abdul Karim Rana, for allegedly cheating people, including Delhi Vidhan Sabha Speaker Ram Niwas Goel, on the pretext of offering plasma for treating COVID-19 patients.

The accused pretended to be a doctor and a recovered coronavirus patient cheated people by taking money for expenses such as travel and then switched off his phone when asked to come.

Rana reportedly posed as Dr Rahul Thakur working with the medicine department at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the capital.

Last week, Kejriwal also warned that some people were taking advantage of the situation of inadequate amount of plasma, and are engaging in wrongdoings. 

“With an unprecedented crisis like this, it is important that we as a society come together to lend a helping hand to others. Convalescent-plasma therapy is being seen as a ray of hope when there are no vaccines available in the market yet. The people, who have recovered from the disease, have to come forward and offer their plasma. The donation must be accessible to all patients irrespective of the socio-economic differences,” says Shivangi Saxena, a Global Shaper, New Delhi Hub — an initiative of the World Economic Forum. 

Saxena has been proactively helping out connecting donors with COVID-19 patients for the past few days. 

Government’s fight against COVID-19

Besides opening the plasma bank, the Delhi government has been increasing the number of trials on patients, requesting the central government to allow expansion of the therapy.  

At present, around 10 government and private hospitals are conducting these trial therapies on serious patients. But, there is a need for creating awareness and killing rumours that might hinder the plans.

'There are a lot of misconceptions, rumours going around. The recovered patients are scared of donating their plasma. I have donated my plasma five times, so far.'Tabrez Khan,  first plasma donor of Delhi

The government has also set up two helpline numbers for plasma donation. One can call on 1031 or send a WhatsApp message on 8800007722 to register themselves as a donor.

According to the procedure, after giving the contact details, the willing donor will receive a call from a Delhi government doctor who will confirm the person’s eligibility for plasma donation and obtain other details. 

If that person is found to be eligible, a suitable time for pick-up will be fixed. The government will send a vehicle to the donor to take him to the plasma bank, or he will be reimbursed for the travel cost if prefers to travel through his vehicle.

No patient or their family should call on the helpline numbers or approach the ILBS directly. The plasma shall be provided to the hospitals based on the doctor’s prescriptions. The usage of plasma is free of cost.

“Some evidence has shown that the therapy is useful. Since there is no other drug, vaccine or anti-viral available, this can be helpful,” says Dr S K Sarin, director of the ILBS, on the launch of plasma bank. Sarin is supervising the entire process of the plasma bank and the therapy trials in the city.

'The Delhi government’s pioneering effort to set up the plasma bank is a welcome step and will go a long way in fighting the unending war against the COVID-19.'Himanshu Sikka, lead-health,  WASH at IPE Global

“There are a lot of misconceptions, rumours going around. The recovered patients are scared of donating their plasma. I have donated my plasma five times, so far. Every day, I get more than 20 calls from patients and their families requesting me for plasma donation. I have been trying to convince a few people to donate, but it’s not an easy job. The government should step in and build confidence in people to donate their plasma,” says Tabrez Khan, the first plasma donor of Delhi. 

Khan tested positive in March, but after recovery, he donated his plasma for the first time on April 5. Khan also lauded the Kejriwal government for the plasma bank.

Ajay Prakash Arya at Delhi Plasma Bankin the ILBS.

NGOs step in 

While the Delhi government and Centre have joined hands to fight against the deadly virus in the national capital, some NGOs and civil society groups come up with online platforms and websites that help patients and donors connect with each other on time.

“The Delhi government’s pioneering effort to set up the plasma bank is a welcome step and will go a long way in fighting the unending war against the COVID-19. This will also help ensure that proper testing of plasma is conducted. However, the government should also focus on spreading awareness about the therapy so that more donors come forward and feel safe to re-visit the bank,” says Himanshu Sikka, lead-health, Nutrition and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at IPE Global.

Yogesh Dhakad, a nursing officer at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, says there is need for proper counseling of patients who have recovered from the virus. 

“I donated my plasma thrice since my recovery in May and will be doing more in the coming days. But when I talk to other patients, they express their apprehensions. From my experience, I can say only 10 out of 100 recovered patients come forward to donate plasma. The ratio should change. The plasma bank is a positive initiative,” says Dhakad. 

'People helped me a lot in getting the plasma for my father, but there is a need for a robust and easy system for the patients who are looking for plasma. The process is cumbersome right now.'Ravideep Chahar, a senior officer posted at the DDA

Who are ineligible? 

  • Weight less than 50 kg
  • Females who have ever been pregnant
  • Diabetic on insulin
  • BP more than 140 and diastolic less than 60 or more than 90
  • Uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension with a change in medication in the last 28 days
  • Cancer survivor
  • Chronic kidney/heart/lung or liver disease Websites helping find donors  
  • Dhoondh.com n Plasmayoddha.in n Plasmadonor.in 
  • Needplasma.in n Plasmaline.in

How will govt facilitate donors?

  • The Delhi government will arrange for the donor’s transport to the ILBS Hospital in Vasant Kunj, or reimburse the travel cost 
  • If the donor has not been tested negative after being tested positive for COVID initially, the government will arrange for him to be tested
  • It will provide refreshments during the donor’s visit to the plasma bank
  • The donor will receive a plasma donor certificate signed by the chief minister

Two helpline numbers for donationCM Arvind Kejriwal issued numbers — 1031 and 8800007722 — where people can contact for donation of plasma to save the lives of COVID-19 patients. The government has set up the plasma bank at the state-run Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences. Plasma therapy involves taking antibodies from the blood of a person who has recovered from coronavirus and transfusing those into a infected patient to help kick-start the immune system to fight the infection. According to experts, the increasing demands for plasma therapy could be an indication of increasing number of serious patients, who are not recovering through usual treatments. Even Health Minister Satyendar Jain had to be administered plasma therapy. 

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