News from the national capital raises hopes about a breakthrough in Covid treatment. For the first time, a Covid patient who was put on plasma therapy has recovered. In Max Hospital, Saket, New Delhi, the 49-year old man under treatment for over three weeks has been cured of Covid through plasma treatment. When a patient, who haad been in ventilator with fever and respiratory block for days, returns to life, that is bound to raise big hopes.
Convalescent plasma therapy is the technique consisting of extracting antibodies from the blood of those who have recovered from Covid and transfusing it into new patients. In the case reported, the donor of plasma was a woman who had become free of Covid three weeks ago. The plasma was donated after ensuring that the donor had fully recovered and there was not even the slightest sign of the disease left. The condition of the patient in whom this treatment was applied, had improved even two days ago. And now he tested negative too. There is no doubt that this is a development that will redouble the morale of everyone in the forefront of the defence against Covid, including health-workers and authorities, especially when the country is preparing to employ the plasma treatment in a big way. It is because no direct medicine or vaccines to act against corona virus is available yet that the World Health Organisation authorised the use of plasmatherapy as an effective and swift treatment against corona virus.
The first test of plasma was made in the very first epicentre of Covid, i.e. Wuhan in China. With all the 15 patients who were subjected to the plasma trial gaining recovery, other counries like the US, Britain and New Zealand also tried this method. It was after it produced encouraging results in those countries that the Indian Council of Medical Reserch (ICMR) also authorised conditional use of plasma treatment. Now over hundred research institutions in the country including Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) in Thiruvananthapuram are ready to employ plasma treatment. So far, treatment has started in Delhi and Bengaluru. In the initial stage, plasma treatment is being administered only to severely ill patients for its simple rationale.
The body of a patient who recovers from Covid will have antibody or immunoglobin positioned vigilantly in his body. When they are extracted from the blood and transfused in another patient, he will also acquire resistance to the disease. But when this is done, it has to be ensured that the plasma donor is perfectly healthy. ICMR stipulates that the donor has to be certified as free of even symptoms of corona, Hepatitis-B, Hepatitis-C and HIV. The Spanish flu that took five crore lives about a century ago, was brought under control using the same technique. Even two decades before that, the German scientist Emil von Behring had developed this concept. But that was a serum therapy against diphtheria. That also became the key breakthrough in developing vaccines against rabies and diphtheria, and became eligible for the first Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1901. Even during the contagion of H1N1 virus in 2009, and during the spread of Ebola virus in 2014, plasma therapy helped thousands to regain life.
More than as a treatment trial, plasma therapy has greater significance in present conditions. It is a relatively fool-proof technique that can be banked on until vaccines or drugs against Covid are developed. For that very reason, the preparations for plasma therapy in the country will expedite the fight against Covid. If this endeavour has to succeed, it needs more and more plasma donors. Those including Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal have given calls for plasma donations. Many including a doctor in SCTIMST have expressed willingness to do it. But deserving special mention among them is the fact that Tabligh Jamaat workers, who recovered from Covid, have come forward en bloc informing willingness to donate their plasma . In Delhi alone, 3,000 Tablighi workers have approached authorities of different hospitals and informed their willingness to donate plasma as directed by the Amir of Tablilghi Jamaat. Similar reports have also come from Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Telengana. And these are pople who at one point had taken severe blame for spreading Covid in India, and who had suffered attacks and social boycotts on that account. The even include many who were arrested under national security act. The fact is that if more and more people come forward in the Tablighi model, the red zones of the country stand a high chance of turning green.