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Insight in the black market for COVID-19 plasma donations

The plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 donors are used as an investigational treatment for hospitalized patients. Persons who recovered from Covid-19 infections have some proteins circulating in the bodies to fight off the virus and prevent its multiplication, called antibodies. The liquid portion of that blood is known as plasma. COVID-19 convalescent plasma is a treatment where plasma transfused from recovered COVID patient donor to the current infected patient. To donate the plasma for patients in need, donors must have been officially diagnosed with COVID-19, fulfill all the requirements, and must be symptoms free for at least 14 days.

While donors are charging thousands for plasma, the commercialization of this therapy has raised various ethical and legal questions. Many families are facing difficulties in finding plasma donors, and if they can find one, they are charging in thousands. Such as when the health of Kanupriya Mal’s fathers began to worsen in the Covid-19 facility of Saket Max Hospital, doctors advised for a plasma transfusion from recovered patients which could help him beat the illness. The family tried for three days to find the potential donor, finally, one donor agreed and demanded close to Rs. 25,000-30,000 for his plasma. 

Like Mal, many others have confronted with such donors demanding high charges for plasma – given the situation under which people don’t have an option, many are willing to pay the price. Even the plasma banks in Nalasopara, Mumbai is also charging Rs.20,000 for the supply of 200ml of plasma to the patients. 

As the demand for plasma soars, the informal market of plasma donations seeing even higher bids – lakhs of rupees for anti-body rich plasma and more for the donors. This is happening, despite the legal provisions under the National Blood Policy of 2007 which clearly states that you cannot charge someone for blood donations. Any individuals dealing with or monetizing the blood transfusion can face jail time of 2 years. 

The price control on the sale of blood donations in government and private institutes are weak. National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) should ideally make a separate policy on the price of COVID-19 plasma since this has become a new category. There should be regular check that all the plasma donations should not be limited to elite hospitals, they must be equally transferred to the government and municipal hospitals. 

Mal, along with her husband, Adwititya, and a friend started a platform known as Dhoondh to connect donors and patients. They have seen an extreme level of human nature. While some donors agreed not only to donate plasma free of cost and handling all the other expenses like traveling, despite not being well off, some donors said to transfer the money then we will come tomorrow. Well, they couldn’t be blamed, everyone is hard up these days. This platform now automatically blocks any donor asking for money. Similarly, another platform called Plasma Yoddha has set up by Parikh, who also heads a startup – DIY.Heath. On this platform, the recovered patients can register, be screened by doctors, and eventually able to donate the blood to government and municipal hospitals. 

As the number of cases continues to rise, the surge in the black market of convalescent plasma will be a difficult feat. The government must take note of this breach and take some necessary actions before the situation gets out of hand. While some patients are donating plasma for free others are charging thousands or even lakhs. What about the poor who cannot afford such offers. There must be a key to make sure that healthcare reaches all. The government needs to find that key!!

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