New Delhi: Faridabad resident Devendra Rai has been running from pillar to post for the last few days to get antibody-laden blood plasma of a recovered Covid-19 patient for his 43-year-old cousin, who is critically ill with the same infection.
While he managed to find a replacement donor for the plasma bank set up at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in south Delhi on 5 July, Rai said he was eventually refused plasma because neither he nor his cousin are residents of Delhi.
“I called the plasma bank and they agreed to help me but when they heard that I am a Faridabad resident, they refused to assist. I don’t know if this is politically motivated but this jeopardises the lives of so many innocent patients,” he told ThePrint.
Rai isn’t the only one. Many others from Gurugram and Noida have also been struggling to gain access to the resource that is being touted as a life-saving therapy. Rai said he has written to the Delhi government in the hope that the administration will tweak its rules.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had on 29 June announced the setting up of a plasma bank at the ILBS, but the conditions for receiving plasma were not declared at the time.
It now seems the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has decided to let only Delhi residents gain access to its plasma bank, much like its 7 June order of reserving Delhi hospital beds for city dwellers.
Officials and staff members at the ILBS ThePrint spoke to said they were following government instructions to offer plasma only to residents of the city.
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“Since this is a government-backed initiative, we do not have the final say in decisions. We have to follow government directives,” said a staffer, who did not wish to be named.
Dr Meenu Bajpai, head of the blood transfusion department at ILBS, refused to comment on this, saying it is a policy decision and beyond her purview.
ThePrint approached the Delhi health minister’s office through phone calls for a comment, but there was no response. ThePrint also tried to contact Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisiodia and AAP’s national joint secretary Akshay Marathe, but without any success. This report will be updated if they respond.
Convalescent plasma therapy involves injecting patients with plasma from people who have recovered from Covid-19 infection, and whose bodies have, therefore, generated the antibodies required to fight the novel coronavirus.
Doctors and other health experts have, however, said though the results of plasma therapy trials have been “encouraging” it is no magic bullet.
Trouble finding donors
The requirement list set up by the ILBS states that for every unit of blood taken, a unit of blood has to be replenished by the family of the recipient. But plasma therapy depends on the willingness of recovered patients to donate plasma, and finding willing donors has proved a tough prospect on the ground.
Donors have to also meet certain conditions before they qualify for donations, and the blood groups of recipients and donors must match too.
When ThePrint visited the ILBS last week, relatives of several Covid-19 patients were seen waiting outside the facility as early as 8 am, only to get their turn sometime around noon.
Many told ThePrint how finding a donor had been a daunting task. Shankar Jain, a Delhi-based student, had to find two separate donors to get two units of plasma for his critically-ill aunt. It took him four days for the entire process.
Shankar said he was asked by doctors at the government hospital, where his aunt is admitted, to get plasma for her. He was told to get a document signed by the nodal officer of the hospital simply stating that the patient needed plasma therapy.
“After Kejriwal’s announcement, we thought the hospital will help us find a donor. But things are still the same. The nodal officer only signs a form. That’s it,” Shankar told ThePrint.
In an announcement made last month, CM Kejriwal had said, “If a patient wants to get plasma on their own, they can continue doing that. If someone needs plasma, they will need a doctor’s recommendation. The hospital or doctor will approach ILBS.”
Like Shankar, 26-year old Summet Arora, a student in London, has spent several sleepless nights trying to arrange a donor for his 68-year-old father admitted at the Shree Aggarsain International Hospital in Rohini.
“I had sent my friends to the plasma bank. But they were asked to bring a donor. If I have to find a donor myself, then I would rather take the donor to the hospital than the bank,” he told ThePrint.
Arora said he finally found a donor and went ahead with the procedure without the help of the plasma bank at ILBS.
‘Conditions for donating plasma delay procedure’
In order to be eligible for receiving plasma, a Delhi resident must first find a donor and get them registered in ILBS. The donor has to show Covid-19 negative report, fulfill all other criteria for plasma donation and only then is his or her plasma accepted.
After the donation, donors receive a card which they have to hand over to the recipient. Only after showing this donor card is a person permitted the receipt of plasma. This entire procedure sometimes takes days.
Delhi resident Sanjay Goyal said he had to visit ILBS for three consecutive days last week to get his donor approved. When this reporter met him last week, he had been waiting for nearly three hours with a third replacement donor.
His first donor was rejected because the person had high blood pressure, while the second wasn’t accepted because he had consumed alcohol a day before. Goyal’s 70-year-old Covid-positive father-in-law stands to gain with the third donor’s one unit of plasma.
Explaining the crisis, Dr Bajpai said, “Daily, we are seeing about 30-35 donors. But keeping in mind the high number of Covid cases in the city, we are still not able to cater to all the demands. There is no sure-shot formula to bridge the demand-supply gap. It can only be bridged when people come forward and donate.”
She added, “Donors between the ages of 18 to 60 years are eligible to donate convalescent plasma. Persons who have no symptoms for 14 days and are tested negative for Covid-19 are eligible to donate their plasma. Women who have ever been pregnant and anyone who has received blood transfusion are not eligible to donate. We request more and more people to come forward to donate their plasma.”
Patients today no longer have to bring a donor of the same blood group as the recipient. Goyal said this was the “only relief” that the coming up of a plasma bank has provided to families of Covid-19 patients.
Dr Shantanu Dubey, assistant head of operations at ILBS, also spoke about a “unique problem”, which both the bank and recipients have been facing.
“Since the blood group AB is rare, we have a shortage of plasma for this particular group. And since blood groups need to be kept in mind while giving plasma therapy, donors of this group may face difficulties,” he told ThePrint.
Dr Dubey also said the week-old plasma bank has enough reserves to transact 15-20 plasma units every day.
With inputs from Aneesha Bedi
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