Mumbai: Maharashtra accounts for over 25 per cent of India’s Covid-19 caseload, but the state government is struggling to get donors for its convalescent plasma trial-cum-treatment project in severely ill patients.
Since the launch of the project on 29 June, only 280 donors have come forward even as the state was expecting at least 500 by now. The trial under the project, dubbed ‘Platina Plasma’, is set to begin in a couple of days.
To attract more donors, the government is now trying out new approaches – monetary compensation to donors, donation camps such as a ‘Plasma Ki Qurbani’ on Eid-al-Adha, roping in Ganesh Mandals, tapping the state’s police force that has had a high number of Covid cases and reaching out to corporate too.
“Hesitation among Covid recovered patients to come forward and donate their plasma is the main problem that we are facing. In urban areas, prospective donors are not coming forward because they are scared of getting infected. In rural areas, they are looking for compensation,” Dr. Mohammed Faizal, state coordinator of the project, told ThePrint.
“I have 280 bags of plasma with me. I was expecting 500-800 bags till now. We have a capacity to collect 50-100 samples every day,” he said.
According to the state government, the Platina project is the world’s largest trial and treatment project involving convalescent plasma therapy for critically ill Covid patients.
Patients who have recovered from Covid have antibodies in their plasma that can help Covid positive patients fight the infection. Patients can donate plasma 28 days after recovery and then again within four weeks after the first donation.
As of 31 July, Maharashtra has recorded 4,11,798 Covid positive cases, of which 2,48,615 have recovered.
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The Platina project has a capacity for 5,000 donors, according to its budget, but so far there has been a small trickle of donors, prompting state government officials to use innovative measures to spread awareness about the project and draw more donors.
“We are giving Rs 2,000 to ever donor. The compensation is not for the plasma, but to make up for lost wages for a day, as well as travel and other logistical expenditure,” Faizal said.
With a large number of Maharashtra police personnel having tested positive for Covid, the Platina project coordinators are also tapping the state government’s own police force for plasma. So far, about 80 Covid recovered police personnel have donated their plasma.
A total of 9,096 Maharashtra Police personnel have tested Covid positive until now, with 100 of them having succumbed to the virus, according to state government data as of Thursday. At least, 7,084 of the total infected have recovered so far.
The project has also tied up with Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a prominent Indian Muslim body, to organise a seven-day screening camp for plasma donation, coinciding it with Eid-al-Adha and advertising it as ‘Plasma Ki Qurbani’. Eid-al-Adha will be celebrated on 31 July this year.
Similarly, officials have also roped in major Ganesh Mandals, such as the iconic Mumbai’s ‘Lalbaug Cha Raja’, for the cause.
“We are requesting every major Ganesh Mandal to send us at least one donor every day over the ten-day festival. This means, we should get at least 10 donors from each Mandal,” Faizal said.
Besides, the state government has been advertising on local radio stations as well as reaching out to large corporate groups, requesting their employees who might have recovered from Covid to donate their plasma.
“We have asked officials at the level of all 24 administrative wards in Mumbai to check on recovered Covid patients and ask for their wellbeing. They should be treated as our brand ambassadors. And while there will be no force, our officials can request them to get themselves screened for plasma donation,” said Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner at Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
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How it’s processed
Antibodies stay in the system only for eight to 12 weeks, giving a definite window to when a Covid recovered patient can donate plasma, said Kakani.
Prospective donors are screened for infections such as HIV, Hepatitis, the level of antibodies in their system, as well as haemoglobin levels, which need to be above 12.5 per cent.
“A large number of people in our society are slightly anaemic, which takes them out of the consideration for plasma donation. Moreover, any woman who has ever been pregnant cannot donate,” said Dr Sanjay Mukherjee, who was principal secretary of the state medical education and drugs department until this week, and handed over charge to Saurabh Vijay Wednesday.
The plasma donation process takes about 40 minutes. The donor goes through a single prick, and generally has no weakness post donation.
The Platina Plasma project
The trial, which is expected to formally begin in the next two to three days, involves 472 patients, divided into two groups of 236.
“One group will be administered plasma therapy and another group will not. It will be through a randomised sampling,” Faizal said. Patients will receive two doses of 200 ml convalescent plasma. The state government has not associated itself with any pharmaceutical company for the project.
With a budget of Rs 16.85 crore arranged from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, the trial will be conducted free of cost at 21 centres across Maharashtra – 17 medical colleges under the state medical education and drugs department and four medical colleges of the BMC in Mumbai.
“We also intend to take this study further and isolate monoclonal antibodies against Covid from this plasma and study its structure and possibly produce it in an artificial form,” Mukherjee said.
Faizal said besides the trial, the project also includes the off-label use of plasma in emergency cases with the consent of the physician and the patient.
“While we are waiting for a few technicalities to be sorted out before starting the trial, off-label use has already started with about 15 patients having used the therapy in the past 20 days,” he said.
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