The Covid-19, which broke out in China in late 2019, especially in Wuhan province, has wreaked havoc in the world, sparing no region and affecting all aspects of human life including health, economy, education, and travel as well. It is an upper respiratory disease caused by a virus. As everyone is aware of it and has been directly or indirectly affected by it, there is no need to go into too much detail about this disease.
The disease has locked down the entire world and the latest data from WHO indicates 17,628,109 confirmed cases and 680,354 confirmed deaths in 216 countries and territories around the world.
The world’s best pharmaceutical companies, research centers at the world’s prestigious universities, public health agencies in most developed countries such as the National Institute of Health in the USA sponsoring the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Initiative for new COVID-19 testing, and even the World Health Organization are all conducting studies geared toward developing treatment drugs for and vaccinations against covid-19 in an unprecedented way, even to the extent of repurposing some drugs or drug combinations already licensed and used for other illnesses for Covid-19 treatment in a separate study spearheaded by the Word Health Organization termed as Solidarity Trial
In the middle of that SCRAMBLE for Covid-19 control, although no effective treatment or vaccine has yet been developed, there is another study, involving with the patients who completely recovered from the Covid-19 infection as well as those who are still in the intensive care units with Covid-19 infection, with a great promising outcome so far in the US and many other countries in the world. It is known as “The Convalescent Plasma Therapy”
Before discussing this promising study and how it tremendously helps the Covid-19 infected patients, it is important to first look at how new drugs and vaccines are developed and marketed and how the human body responds to diseases in its healthy physiological state to appreciate its timely emergency and importance.
In the United States, for example, new drugs and vaccines go through many complex processes, which are carried out in different phases, commonly known as trials, to determine if the drug or vaccine is working and does not cause pain, harm or suffering to the patients and what the therapeutic doses will be. The processes also examine the side effects of the new drugs and vaccines and their interactions with the already existing drugs and vaccines, should they be used together. When all these challenges are met, an application must be submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval where the safety and effectiveness of the drug or vaccine are checked once again. This shows how the production of new drugs and vaccines is slow and takes years, coupled with the uncertainty if they will eventually be successful.
The immune system is the first defense in the body against disease causing agents (pathogens) and their toxins through its natural ability to distinguish between self-cells and non-self cells. The skin, mucous membranes, and the white cells in the blood constitute the natural or innate immunity that we are all born with. Besides that, as we routinely get infected with microbes and eventually recover from those infections, we develop another type of immunity known as “acquired immunity” – an immunity acquired through the infection. Amazing, the more infections recovered, the more stronger immunity possessed.
In the process of developing the acquired immunity, you produce specific proteins called antibodies (or in layman terms specially trained commandos) for specific pathogens. These antibodies are found in the bloodstream and within many tissues and bodily fluids. Once these specially trained commandos or antibodies are developed, they leave behind memory cells recognizing pathogens for any subsequent infection.
This promising study took advantage of the scientific fact that those patients with covid-19 infection developed antibodies, circulating in their bloodstream, against the virus, and by the way of blood donations such antibodies can be harvested through apheresis plasma collection process. This type of plasma collected from the blood donations of covid-19 convalescent patients is known as “Convalescent Plasma”
When it is transfused to sick patients with covid-19 in the intensive care units, it boosted their immunity against and ability to fight the virus. The eligibility of donors for convalescent plasma donations are:
- Complete absence of symptoms at least 14 days before the donation
- Proof of COVID-19 evidence a laboratory test
- Collection of plasma donation by apheresis process – in this process, the plasma is removed, while the rest of the blood components are returned into the donor’s body.
- Blood group of donor plasma must be compatible with the recipient plasma
- Plus all other requirement for blood donation
This treatment with convalescent plasma is very effective against covid-19 and currently being tried in many countries around the world. The testing materials necessary for screening donors as well as the equipment needed to collect convalescent plasma are already available at the blood donation centers in Somaliland and the efficacy of this treatment has already been proved. Therefore, it is a treatment that proves to be very cost effective and can be easily replicated in Somaliland for the critically ill covid-19 patients
By Ahmed J Yassin
Clinical Laboratory Professional MT(ASCP)