COVID-19: Bangladesh also exploring plasma therapy as a ray of hope

As the world grapples with a rising number of coronavirus cases and deaths with a vaccine still far off, researchers are now betting on Convalescent Plasma Therapy (CPT) for saving lives of COVID-19 patients.

Plasma is the liquid portion of blood that remains when all red and white blood cells and platelets have been removed. In CPT, plasma collected from recovered patients is infused into patients who currently have the disease.

CPT is, by far, the oldest treatment being tested to battle COVID-19, being successful in cases during the previous coronavirus outbreaks such as the Sars epidemic in 2003 and the Ebola virus outbreak in 2013. Physicians used CPT effectively before the specific treatment was developed for H1N1 influenza (Spanish virus), SARS-1 and MERS virus.German physiologist Emil von Behring first introduced the idea of using plasma as a therapy, a theory for which he won the first Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1901 by experimenting with plasma serum therapies against diphtheria.

There has so far been more than 5.2 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. So far, 338,142 deaths have been attributed to the virus but more two million people have so far recovered.

Coronavirus, first reported in China in December last year, is a respiratory disease which seems to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. After a week, it leads to shortness of breath and some patients require hospital treatment.

The US has by far the largest number with 1,600,937 confirmed cases and 95,979 deaths.

Bangladesh’s confirmed coronavirus cases shot past the 30,000-mark on Friday with the detection of 1,694 new cases in the span of 24 hours. During this period, 24 more people died from COVID-19 disease, taking the death tally to 432.

New hopeDhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) has started collecting plasma from COVID-19 recovered donors. Earlier, CPT was used for treating a COVID-19 patient for the first time in Bangladesh at the Evercare Hospital Dhaka (formerly known as Apollo Hospital) on May 6.

Dr Joardar Rakin Manzoor from DMCH was the first plasma donor.

Professor Dr MA Khan, chief of the national technical subcommittee for the plasma treatment and head of DMCH’s bone marrow transplant (BMT) unit and department of haematology, told UNB that two doctors who have recovered from COVID-19 have donated their plasma on May 16.

The doctors who donated their plasma are Dr Dildar Hossain Badol from Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital and Dr Rownak Jamil Piyash from Sir Salimullah Medical College Mitford Hospital.

“The procedure of plasma collection is set to examine further possibilities to find the best therapy options to treat coronavirus patients. The therapy has been successful in many parts of the world and so we’re also trying to examine the therapy. Primarily, we’ll be testing this therapy on 45 patients who are currently admitted to DMCH,” Prof Khan said.

He said a special kit worth Tk 12,000 can collect the plasma from a donor. Another kit for running the ALIZA test to determine the number of antibodies in a donor’s blood, costs about Tk 150,000.

DMCH has already ordered four such kits worth Tk 600,000 from Spain, and each kit is capable of testing 90 samples. DMCH authorities are primarily bearing the cost at the trial stage while the government is also stepping forward with fund, Prof Khan added.

He said patients with COVID-19 can donate blood 14 days after recovery. “Antibodies are made in the body within this time. Plasma increases the patient’s immunity and helps to recover quickly. The effectiveness is higher on the patient’s body if the patient receives CPT at the initial stage of infection than being at the critical stage,” Prof Khan added.

Bangladesh embracing CPT

On April 25, the UK government approved the clinical trial of CPT for National Health Service (NHS) for treating COVID-19 patients. On April 12, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) called for applications to study the safety and efficacy of CPT in managing complications associated with COVID-19. United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved CPT on April 4.

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

DGHS was also directed to supervise other hospitals across the country in this regard.

Dr Khan submitted a proposal to the government to introduce the procedure in Bangladesh as many countries including India has already approved the treatment to fight COVID-19.

He told UNB that following the proposal, the government formed the four-member technical committee with Dr Khan being as the head.

“There’s no reason to be afraid to come forward as a plasma donor for the COVID-19 survivors. The more we get the plasma from the donors, the more we can proceed with the CPT to battle COVID-19,” Dr Khan said, urging all recovered patients to donate plasma to help others battling the virus.

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