Last year, the state government had announced a one-time incentive of Rs 5,000 to people who recovered from Covid-19 infection to encourage plasma donation.

With Karnataka, especially Bengaluru, grappling with a persistent surge in cases and fatalities amid the ongoing second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demand for plasma has increased manifold. However, there is an acute scarcity of donors for the same.

Dr Vishal Rao U S, who heads the state-supported HCG plasma bank in Bengaluru, told indianexpress.com that the demand for plasma has seen an uptick of over five times since January 2021.

“There is a definite demand for plasma which has increased over the last few months from almost none in December 2019 to an average rise of five in January 2021 and now exceeding 25 (in the plasma bank he is associated with) this month,” he said.

According to the Department of Health and Family Welfare Services, at least 470 patients (176 in Bengaluru Urban alone) have been admitted to ICUs with severe Covid-19 infection. Rao attributed the rise in demand for plasma to the corresponding rise in patients admitted to ICUs at designated hospitals across the state.

“We know that Remdesivir (widely used by many even now for Covid treatment) is not effective and international bodies are now relying on plasma to save lives, on a global scale. The Mayo Clinic (a non-profit American academic medical center) and the American Society of Hematology have also come out strongly in support of this (plasma therapy),” Rao said.

Meanwhile, volunteers running Covid Helpline Bangalore, a website that offers first-hand assistance to pandemic-related issues in the city, said that they are getting at least 15 requests for plasma on a daily basis since the beginning of this month.

“Most requests we get are from relatives of patients admitted to private hospitals. While several people had come forward after recovering from Covid-19 to donate plasma, this has nearly stopped since October last year,” Ameen Mudassar of CIGMA Foundation said.

He added that the existing debate in the medical community on whether plasma therapy is effective in the treatment of Covid-19 has been put to rest as this mode of treatment has proved decisive for many patients. “In many cases, the relatives of patients are being asked to arrange for plasma donors directly by the hospitals due to shortage of the same,” he said.

Abdul Rahman Shariff, managing trustee of Jeevaraksha Voluntary Blood Bank in Vasanthanagar, said plasma donors coming forward voluntarily are a rarity in the city since October 2019. “While we get nearly 50 requests daily now, only a few of them are able to arrange for donors themselves from their friend circles or people they know. Depending on the severity of the case, we also try to arrange for donors who have registered with us earlier. However, not many turn up these days,” he said.

Last year, the state government had announced a one-time incentive of Rs 5,000 to people who recovered from Covid-19 infection to encourage plasma donation. Asked about this, Shariff said, “We had many donors coming forward from July to September last year after learning of this offer but none of them were incentivised. Discussions on whether such paid donations were ethical had also affected the process then.”

Finding those who are completely eligible to donate plasma from among the few who come forward is another challenge, he said. Voicing his agreement to this sentiment, Rao said, “We need to have fresh donors who have passed a month since they got infected but not beyond three months. Many of the old donors do not have strong antibodies required for the therapy.”

Blood banks, on the whole, have seen a dip in donors since the pandemic broke out. “While we used to deal with 600 to 800 units on a monthly basis pre-pandemic, the same has resurrected from nearly none to only 50 to 100 units as of now,” Shariff said.

Meanwhile, a frequent blood donor, who wished not to be named, said, “The government should generate more awareness among people on the importance of plasma and blood donation. Many fear that they would be tested for Covid-19 as well if they turn up at a blood bank while some share concerns that they might get infected from the staff at blood banks.”

A final-year postgraduate student from a private college in Mysuru, the donor said, “Such myths should be busted as soon as possible. The fact that plasma therapy saves critically ill Covid-19 patients from death should also be communicated widely.”

Rao, who apart from being the regional director, Head & Neck Surgical Oncology & Robotic Surgery, HCG Cancer Hospital, is also a member of the state task force, said, “We (a team of experts) recently met CM Yediyurappa to apprise him of this matter. He will be writing to the health minister, BBMP and the committee to see how we can make plasma therapy more accessible.”

Karnataka has reported 1,23,618 new cases and 610 deaths since March 1, this year. It is the fourth-highest among all states and union territories in terms of active caseload (75,985 as on Monday), trailing Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.

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