Plasma to the rescue

July 07, 2020

Blood is not just a lifeline.

Blood is life itself, continuously living, flowing.

That is, for as long as there are compassionate donors and grateful recipients lucky enough to partake of the gift of the life-giving fluid.

While blood supply may be limited, especially for the rare types, and even nearing depletion because of the huge demand triggered by the still raging health crisis, it is reassuring that the vital fluid has a benevolent twin.   

A very discerning lady lawmaker wants to shore up the country’s stock of this fluid.

And so we fully agree with and strongly support Sen. Imee Marcos in proposing the creation of plasma banks in all public and private hospitals in the country, while an effective vaccine for Covid-19 and its possible mutations remains unavailable.

Medical research has shown that the yellowish liquid part of the blood known as plasma, which was taken from patients who recovered from previous coronavirus pandemics like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, reduced the number of deaths among new patients who were transfused with it.

"There is hope in the use of plasma as a possible treatment for Covid-19, with clinical trials now being conducted by the PGH (Philippine General Hospital). The World Health Organization also sanctioned the use of plasma in other pandemics like the Ebola outbreak in Africa," Marcos said.

"We must prepare for the long haul. Not even medical experts can tell the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, how much further cases of infection in the country will increase, and when a vaccine will be found," she  added.

The lawmaker has filed Senate Bill 1648, or the Plasma Donation and Collection Act, to start the process of collecting plasma from donors and establishing facilities for this purpose in hospitals nationwide, within one year after the law takes effect.

The bill seeks to task the Department of Health to create guidelines on donor eligibility and a chain of custody to keep collected plasma safe from transmissible diseases.

Marcos noted that the racket of buying and selling plasma reported in the Central Visayas would be dismantled if an organized and broader system of plasma donation, collection, and safekeeping was established by the government.

In a related move, Sen. Sonny Angara urged his fellow Covid-19 survivors to consider donating their blood plasma to help save the lives of Filipinos who are afflicted with the deadly disease.

As more patients are benefiting from convalescent plasma therapy or the infusion of blood plasma from an individual who recovered from Covid-19, Angara called on more survivors to "donate and save lives".

To help facilitate the process of connecting blood plasma donors with the receiving hospitals and the patients in need of this, the senator’s office, in cooperation with the Bacolod City-based web developer Talking Myna, has launched the website plasmangpagasa.com.

Through plasmangpagasa.com, the donors can register and select their preferred hospital for the collection of their blood plasma.

To qualify as a donor, an individual must have fully recovered from Covid-19 for at least two weeks.

They must be eligible to donate blood, have prior diagnosis of Covid-19 documented by a laboratory test and meet other donor criteria.

Individuals must have complete resolution of symptoms for at least 28 days before they donate, or alternatively have no symptoms for at least 14 days prior to donation and have a negative lab test for active Covid-19 disease.

Angara assured the donors that the personal information they would provide in registering would be kept private and used only by the collecting hospital for the purpose of matching a patient for blood plasma therapy.

At present, plasmangpagasa.com has partnered with the Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines and the St. Luke's Medical Center (BGC and QC).

"We are looking to expand the network of collecting hospitals in plasmangpagasa.com, including those outside of Metro Manila so that it will be easier for our potential donors to connect with these institutions wherever they are in the country," Angara said.

While still considered as an "investigational treatment" for Covid-19, blood plasma therapy has been considered by the World Health Organization as a valid and safe approach in treating infectious diseases such as H1N1, SARS, MERS-CoV and Ebola.

Dr. Michael Ryan, who heads the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, said that through the transfusion of blood plasma, the patient is given a boost of antibodies to hopefully help them get through the very difficult phase.

Angara, who tested positive for COVID-19 last March 26, was able to successfully recover from the disease and donated his blood plasma on April 13.