As India continues to battle a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to note that apart from medications, it was plasma therapy that had caught everyone’s attention during the first wave. While vaccine was a far-off thought back then, plasma therapy had helped save many lives, especially of critically ill patients in the ICU.
Bengaluru — a city that was a major donor of plasma during the first wave — is now facing a crisis as hospitals have run out of plasma stock and are unable to find donors. During the first wave, plasma donation was made to such a huge extent in the city that packets of plasma were airlifted from Bengaluru to Kashmir to save lives of critically ill Covid-19 patients.
In Karnataka alone, over 10 lakh hospitalised patients had recovered from Covid-19. Even if 10 per cent of the donors came back to donate plasma now, several lives could be saved.
Dr Vishal Rao, Head at the plasma bank at HCG Cancer Hospitals in Bengaluru said that during the first wave, 10-20 donors were seen every day at the centre, however, the number had reduced to only 5 donations now. “We can definitely save so many lives, but this time around we are seeing very negligible number of donors. Only 5 donations are happening per day in this centre compared to 10-20 donors last year. During the first wave, people came forward and donated plasma up to such an extent that packets of plasma were airlifted from Bengaluru to Kashmir to save lives of critically ill Covid patients,” said Dr Rao, feeling helpless about the situation.
Dr Rao had messaged everyone in his contacts including patients, doctors and government representatives, requesting them to inform about any donor who was willing to donate plasma as it was needed to save the lives of a few critically ill patients.
Treating Covid-19 patients through plasma of the recovered patients had proven beneficial. Though plasma therapy did not give the desired percentage of success result with Covid-19 treatment but, its benefits could not be undermined. Several myths had surrounded the treatment including that the donor will lose antibodies with plasma donation and will get re-infected. This prevented many from donating their plasma.
“Around 20% of the infected individuals, are more likely to be re-infected. And we draw 200ml of blood from the donor, separate plasma and treat before giving it to the patient. The donor body will re-produce the antibodies quickly and hence they shouldn't be worried,” said Dr Rao. The government, too, is not promoting plasma donation much, he added.
On the contrary, 22-year-old Kunal Ganna who has donated plasma thrice already is eager to repeat the process. “I have seen the plight of patients first hand. Thankfully, I recovered from the infection quickly. But not everyone has that immunity in them. If I can save even one life, that means a lot,” said Kunal.
India has reported the world's highest single-day spike in Covid-19 cases recently and is struggling to treat the mad rush of those infected. Hospitals everywhere are affected with acute shortage of beds, ICUs and oxygen supplies. Despite working overtime and risking their own lives, healthcare professionals are helpless about the situation.