Keeping pace with the increasing number of coronavirus patients in the country, the demand for convalescent plasma is growing every day.
Although many coronavirus survivors are readily donating their plasma, the collection amount is still far below the demand.
Dr Ashraful Huq, assistant professor of blood transfusion department of Sheikh Hasina Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute, who set up the first plasma bank in the country for treating Covid-19 patients, says he receives requisitions for 15 to 20 bags of plasma every day.
He says he has so far collected plasma from 17 Covid-19 survivors and 30 patients were treated with those.
Dr Ashraful, who first collected plasma on 27 April this year, says people are now very interested in donating plasma, but he warned that few individuals have created Facebook groups to trade in plasma.
"We are getting a higher number of requisitions for plasma from hospitals like United Hospital and Square Hospital. The well-off patients in these hospitals are ready to spend money to buy plasma.
"This has led to the emergence of a group of people who are collecting convalescent plasma and trading in this life-saving substance centring several hospitals.
Professor MA Khan, chairman of the Haematology Department of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, also mentioned a growing demand for plasma. He said they receive requisitions for 40 to 50 bags of plasma every day but the number of donors is not keeping up with the demand, he added.
He says individuals who are recovering from the Covid-19 at the hospital must be persuaded to donate plasma. He even suggests making Covid-19 patients sign a bond that they will donate plasma after they recover from the disease.
He said plasma collection is very crucial as long as a vaccine for the virus is not developed.
A research project on plasma therapy started at the Dhaka Medical College on May 16 this year, Dr Khan says, adding that so far 18 patients have been given plasma at the hospital, while plasma have been collected from 21 individuals.
Dr Khan, also a member of the National Advisory Committee on Coronavirus, says certain people may engage in trading of plasma violating the transfusion guidelines if the health directorate does not come up with preventive measures.
He proposes devising a National Expanded access programme to prevent misuse of plasma.
Pointing out that many institutions are charging Tk20,000-25,000 for collecting plasma from an individual, he says this must be stopped.
He also suggests collecting and controlling plasma under a central authority. A proposal in this regard has been sent to the government through the National Technical Committee, he adds.
Currently the Burn Institute, Ibne Sina, Apollo, Asgar Ali Hospital, Square Hospital and Police Hospital are collecting plasma with their own machines and transfusing to Covid-19 patients admitted there.
Dr Ashraful Huq says an individual who has recovered from the Covid-19 can donate around 600 millilitres of plasma at a time. A donor cannot give more than 1,200 millilitres in a month.
He, however, mentioned misleading information are being spread online saying that plasma can be collected from an individual twice a week.
Plasma collected between the 28th and 35th day after recovery are most effective, he says, adding that brokers are trying to cash in on that period by spreading false information.
As the demand for convalescent plasma is growing for the increasing number of coronavirus patients in the country, a black market for the highly sought after potentially life-saving blood component has developed centring the coronavirus treatment hospitals.
Dr Ashraful says he feels some people are doing business with plasma as one or two persons are bringing donors every day for the last three days. Mentioning that he did not collect plasma on Thursday due to his suspicion, he says he will collect plasma only from those who would be able to produce documents.
He also stressed on issuing a proper guideline in this regard so that people cannot donate plasma anywhere. He says the procedure charge for collecting plasma can be around Tk3,000, but many institutions are charging up to Tk30,000 for it.
When contacted, a Facebook group named Covid-19 Plasma Helpline Bangladesh said they have collected plasma from 25 people so far. They said they can arrange plasma donors if people contact them.
The group claimed they do not charge anything from a patient other than the plasma collection cost charged by a hospital. The cost varies from Tk5,000-25,000 depending on hospitals, they added.
According to doctors, brokers collect plasma from Covid-19 survivors pretending to be relatives of coronavirus patients.
The brokers are basically collecting plasma and are selling those for hefty sums, doctors say, warning that the collected plasma can be harmful to patients if it is not kept at the right temperature.
Many people have been infected with the coronavirus and recovered from the disease in the last one month in the country, so there are many people who can donate plasma, doctors add.
Doctors say patients need a ventilator when they cannot breathe on their own. Providing plasma therapy before sending a patient to the ventilator often gives good results.
Bangladesh Police has been playing an important role in collecting convalescent plasma. Already, several police members have been given plasma therapy.
Rafiqul Islam, an additional superintendent of police who created awareness for plasma donation since the pandemic started in Bangladesh, says people who have donated plasma so far are mostly doctors, policemen and journalists.
General patients are still scared about donating plasma and no central initiative has been made yet for creating awareness among the people.
According to Rafiqul Islam, they have collected around 20 plasma donors.
Dr Emdad Hossain, deputy director of Central Police Hospital says that they have already collected plasma from five policemen for Covid-19 treatment.
"We have distributed the collected plasma among two hospitals and got positive results on three patients.