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How do plasma banks work? Experts answer

By Kunal Dutt
July 02, 2020 21:18 IST
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With the Delhi government operationalising the "country's first plasma bank" for COVID-19 patients on Thursday, experts have spelt out the protocol and screening guidelines that will come with the process.

IMAGE: Plasma donors are seen at the newly inaugurated plasma bank at the state-run Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences hospital for treatment of patients suffering from the coronavirus disease, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Amid rising coronavirus cases, the bank has been established in the premises of the Delhi government-run Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, which will operate from 8 am to 8 pm, a senior official of the facility said.


"While the plasma donation area has been set up on the second floor of the hospital building, the plasma drawn from donors will be cryogenically stored in the blood bank facility in the ILBS campus," the official said.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited ILBS and reviewed the plasma bank facility, and interacted with donors.

"Just reviewed Delhi govt's new Plasma Bank. It is world class and modern. Donors are being taken care of very well by staff. I urge recovered Corona patients to come forward and donate their plasma," he tweeted after the visit.

Plasma is separated from the blood of donors using a plasmapheresis machine. ILBS has 10 of these machines at present, and two more are expected to arrive soon, the senior doctor at ILBS said.

"This machine separates plasma and RBC, and the plasma is then stored in a bank at sub-zero temperature. In our bank, we can store it from -30 degree C to - 80 degree C. The plasma drawn from a donor is kept in a special bag which should not be opened until needed," the doctor said.

The drawn plasma is kept in a bag and is then stored in frozen form. And when needed, Plasma Thaw is used on it for thawing at 37 degrees Celsius, she said.

"Once we receive a request from a hospital or a family member of the patient for plasma requirement, we ask for the authorisation letter from the hospital where the patient is admitted. After that we give the required plasma in an insulation box, which can easily be carried, and no special transportation is required," the doctor said.

IMAGE: A plasma donor is seen at the newly inaugurated plasma bank at the state-run Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences hospital for treatment of patients suffering from the coronavirus disease in New Delhi. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

On the first day, many patients came from outside and also ILBS staffers who have recovered from COVID-19 donated plasma.

Sources said about 90 staffers at ILBS have tested positive for the virus till date.

Kejriwal urged those who have recovered from this disease to donate plasma to other patients.

For donors, there are some strict criteria and counselling and screening is done for them before the actual donation process begins so about two to two-and-a-half hours is the total time per donor, the senior doctor said.

"Also, we do transfusion transmissible infections tests. So, the donor should not have HIV, hepatitis B or C, syphilis among other ailments. The donor also should not have any co-morbidities like diabetes, hypertension or renal problems," she said.

Each donor, a person who has recently recovered from COVID-19, develops antibodies which are transferred to the recipient through plasma.

"Each person can donate 250-500 ml of plasma. We give the first dosage of 250 ml to the recipient, and if needed a second dosage of 250 ml after 24 hours," a senior doctor at LNJP hospital said.

The chief minister's office said people aged 18-60 who have fully recovered from COVID-19 and showed no symptoms for 14 days can go for donation, subject to strict guidelines for eligible donors.

So, someone weighing less than 50 kg; women who have ever been pregnant, cancer survivors, and those with kidney, heart, lung or liver diseases are not eligible to donate plasma, it said.

If a donor has given only 250 ml of plasma once, he or she can donate it again, another 250 ml of it after a few days, the LNJP Hospital doctor said.

Kejriwal after reviewing the new facility told reporters, "As we all know there is no vaccine for novel coronavirus yet, but plasma therapy seems to be quite helpful for COVID patients, and could help in saving lives. But it will be successful only if people come forward and donate plasma."

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Kunal Dutt
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