On 23 October 2020, a group of Indian doctors, who had done a study under the guidance of Indian Medical Council Research (ICMR), published their findings on how useful or useless plasma therapy or convalescent plasma was in treating moderate Covid-19 cases in India.
The study, spread across 22 April to 14 July 2020, was done on 464 patients spread across 39 public and private hospitals across India.
The conclusion that they reached was that the plasma therapy was not useful in treating Covid-19 patients or more specifically, “convalescent plasma was not associated with a reduction in progression to severe Covid-19”.
However, the finding of the study never got any real traction, as one of the doctors who is a member of this study, told The Sunday Guardian. The findings were ignored by the government and the media.
Later, the second wave of Covid-19 arrived and social media, including WhatsApp was filled with messages of desperate kith and kin of Covid-19 patients seeking plasma for their relatives who were admitted in hospital. Many had to shell out thousands of rupees to pay money to plasma donors.
The National Task Force on Covid 19, in its updated guidelines for management of Covid-19 patients that it had released on 22 April 2021, had, meanwhile, allowed the use of plasma therapy to treat Covid-19 patients.
Almost eight months after the study published by the ICMR-led doctors, UK medical journal Lancet, on 14 May 2021 published a report on the same topic: how little useful plasma therapy was in treating Covid-19 cases.
This study, which was done by UK Research and Innovation (Medical Research Council) and National Institute of Health Research, was done on 11,558 patients across 177 NHS hospitals in the UK between 28 May 2020 and 15 January 2021. And the conclusion that they reached was the same as what the Indian doctors had reached almost eight months ago: “convalescent plasma did not improve survival or other pre-specified clinical outcomes in Covid-19 patients”.
Three days after the publication of this study in Lancet, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) announced that they were removing plasma therapy from the treatment protocol of Covid-19.
“We had stated the same thing that our Western counterparts later did, just that we said it eight months earlier. However, our findings were not given any value by the authorities. I am glad that Lancet published what it did right now, or maybe our policymakers would have still continued with plasma therapy that has caused so much distress to the relatives of Covid-19 patients. The therapy had used up valuable resources and time of laboratories and technicians,” one of the doctors who was involved in the October 2020 ICMR study said.