Coronavirus: treatment with plasma, “glimmer of hope” in Egypt

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The treatment of the new coronavirus with plasma represents a “ray of hope” in Egypt, a country of 100 million inhabitants with a fragile health system and which seeks to stimulate blood donations, which are usually low.

• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic

“The coronavirus is one of those viruses that do not have textbooks (…) we are fighting an unknown enemy, so any form of treatment is a beacon of hope that we must cling to,” explained to the AFP Ihab Serageldin, director of the National Blood Transfusion Center in Egypt.

When a person contracts the COVID-19 disease, their body produces antibodies to fight the coronavirus. They are concentrated in plasma, the liquid part of the blood.

Treatment involves taking the antibodies from people who have been infected but have recovered, called convalescent plasma, and injecting it into sick people.

US President Donald Trump announced at the end of August the emergency authorization of the transfusion of blood plasma from people recovered from the coronavirus to hospitalized patients.

According to Serageldin, the method is promising while waiting for a vaccine. Since April, he has led a campaign to urge some 79,000 cured patients in Egypt to donate plasma.

Nearly 100,000 cases of the new coronavirus, including more than 5,500 deaths, have been recorded in Egypt since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures.

Determined to help

According to the Ministry of Health, which does not give details, plasma samples from cured patients have already been used.

Among those who donated blood, Mohamed Fathi, 25, contracted the virus in May during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Recovering, he is determined to help other patients by donating his antibodies.

“Losing the taste was a terrible experience. You feel like you are eating just to eat, ”he told AFP, making a donation to the National Blood Center in Cairo.

“I came to donate today because I didn’t want anyone else to go through what my family and I went through. So if I can help even one person, that’s a good thing, ”he added, explaining that his father had also contracted the virus.

Plasma treatment has been shown to be effective in some studies to treat the Ebola virus or SARS, which is in the same family as the new coronavirus.

But all experts agree that more clinical trials are needed to compare plasma to standard care.

Clinical tests carried out in Bolivia, Colombia, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Egypt, however, have shown encouraging results.

Black market

According to Mr Serageldin, only donors between the ages of 18 and 60 with antibodies of a certain quality can donate their plasma in Egypt. More than 200 have already done so, and each donation can help two patients.

“Blood donations are generally low in Egypt so we are working to raise awareness,” he said.

Weak donation led Ahmed Mostafa, a 37-year-old advertising executive, to create an app called Mosanda (“support”) to connect healed patients and sick people.

Mr. Mostafa, having recovered from a novel coronavirus infection himself, developed the app with the help of a doctor and an internet developer.

“We want to be the link between patients,” he explained, grateful that his application has not been very successful so far.

The local press reported in June of the emergence of a black market for plasma from cured patients, citing a cost of 20,000 pounds (over $ 1,100) per donation.

In response, the Sunni Islamic institution Al-Azhar blasted those who “profit from the pandemic”, arguing that Islamic law does not allow it.

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