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Why did ICMR drop Plasma therapy as part of Covid-19 treatment?

With the Covid -19 cases surging and wreaking havoc in the country, there has been a spur in the demand for plasma donors, even as experts raise concerns over the efficacy of plasma therapy for Covid-19 patients. However, plasma therapy lacks scientific evidence to prove that it will work against the disease.

Plasma therapy on COVID-19 patients has not been found effective in reducing the progression to severe disease or death and is dropped from the clinical management guidelines, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) stated late Monday night.

An Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) official said the task force “revised” the Clinical Guidance for Management of Adult COVID-19 Patients and “dropped convalescent plasma (off label)”.

As the cases and fatalities increased every day, countless calls on social media ask for plasma from a particular blood group, often for critical patients in the ICU. Calls of encouragement for donating plasma was very prevalent on social media. Brands like dating app TrulyMadly and e-commerce website Snapdeal have jumped on this bandwagon to facilitate plasma donations.

The panicked furore for convalescent plasma, where plasma from a recovered Covid-19 patient is given to a recovering one hugely prevalent despite increasing evidence to back that unchecked plasma use could be contributing to more virulent mutations of the novel coronavirus.

A group of 18 clinicians, public health professionals, and scientists have written a letter to K VijayRaghavan, India’s principal scientific adviser, expressing their concern at the dissonance between the ICMR’s findings from its own plasma trials and its guidelines for treating Covid-19 cases.

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“Current research evidence unanimously indicates that there is no benefit offered by convalescent plasma for treatment of Covid-19,” they wrote in the letter on May 10. “However, it continues to be prescribed rampantly in hospitals across India. Families of patients run from pillar-to-post to getting plasma, which is in short supply, and reports of black-marketing are common,” they added.

In the letter, which was also marked to ICMR chief Dr Balram Bhargava and AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, public health professionals alleged that the current guidelines on plasma therapy are not based on existing evidence and pointed out some very early evidence that indicates a possible association between emergence of variants with “lower susceptibility to neutralising antibodies in immunosuppressed” people given plasma therapy.

“We are writing to you as concerned clinicians, public health professionals and scientists from India about the irrational and non-scientific use of convalescent plasma for Covid-19 in the country. This has stemmed from guidelines issued by government agencies, and we request your urgent intervention to address the issue which can prevent harassment of Covid-19 patients, their families, their clinicians and Covid-19 survivors,” said the letter.

Now, the government has removed the use of convalescent plasma therapy from its treatment protocol for adult Covid-19 patients.

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