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Plasma therapy not always the answer against Covid-19

  • Published at 03:19 pm July 3rd, 2020
Plasma Therapy

Misconceptions drive up demand for plasma with few available donors

Plasma therapy has shown promise as an effective treatment for Covid-19 around the world, however, misconceptions about the treatment method are leading some patients to turn towards it when it is not necessarily the best answer for their particular case.

In order for plasma therapy to prove effective, certain conditions need to be fulfilled, doctors have said.

Dr Alamgir Kabir, head of the department of haematology at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, said: “If the oxygen level of the patient drops to a severely low level, then they will need ventilator support. If plasma therapy can be given before this stage, it will be relatively effective.”

He added that many patients were trying to get plasma therapy as a last resort, but it had little chance of success if patients were already in a critical condition.

Furthermore, Dr Alamgir stressed that plasma therapy is still in the experimental phase and not a fool-proof solution to Covid-19.

“Plasma therapy is still under trial. We have to observe it for at least five months before declaring it a success. It is being researched around the world,” he said.

Shahadat Hossain, a Covid-19 survivor who has donated plasma to three patients, also said the treatment did not always work.

“The family of one of the patients was desperate to give him plasma therapy as his condition was critical. I donated plasma to them, but the patient died the same day he was given the therapy,” he said.  

In Bangladesh, a national technical subcommittee for plasma therapy under the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) was formed in early April. DMCH’s blood transfusion department decided on April 28 to explore plasma therapy for treating COVID-19 patients. 

The country’s first plasma bank was set up by Dr Ashraful Huq, assistant professor of the blood transfusion department at the Sheikh Hasina Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute. 

Echoing Dr Alamgir on the importance of providing plasma therapy at the right time, Dr Ashraful said: “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if a patient’s plod oxygen level drops below 88%, then they cannot breathe on their own. Providing plasma therapy before they reach this stage can yield good results, but if more than 50% of the lungs get infected then it will not work.”

He added that plasma therapy has a high chance of success if administered in the initial stages, about 50% chance of success when the patient is critical, and almost no chance of success if the patient is on life support.

<Skyrocketing demand for plasma, insufficient number of donors>

Dr Ashraful said they receive requisitions for a minimum of 30 bags of plasma each day and the current collection rate is not even close to meeting this demand.

As of Thursday, the plasma bank had managed to collect 53 bags of plasma and served 80 patients in Dhaka, he added.

They also started a research project on clinical plasma therapy on May 16. 

The Central Police Hospital, Dhaka recently set up a new blood cell-separating machine for plasma collection. In the three weeks until Tuesday, they had collected over 100 bags of plasma and served 100 patients - half of them police members. 

Online platforms for plasma donation

Jamuna Television senior reporter Shahadat Hossain and his family were infected on March 9. They donated plasma on April 1 through the online platform ‘plasma bank,’ which started on March 29. 

Within 3 days, 13,000 members were added to the plasma bank Facebook group and now it has over 18,000. 

“Every day, more than 500 people are crying for plasma in this group. So far, we have been able to donate to only 13 people. Due to community-based awareness, doctors, police and journalists are donating plasma more,” Shahadat said.

The government on June 9 launched a plasma network titled “Shohojoddha” to facilitate the collection and distribution of plasma from coronavirus recovered patients in Bangladesh. 

The Information and Communication Technology Division in association with the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), a2i, Innovation Lab, Young Bangla, and eGeneration launched the platform along with a mobile app. 

www.shohojoddha.com is used to trace donor and receiver status as required and in time, as well as provide information to them. 

This website aims to serve as a medium for communication between donors and patients. Plasma will be supplied only after doctors and hospitals take the necessary tests. 

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