In times of stress, various forms of quackery thrive, as we often see in a country that does not lack gullibility, but it should alarm us if a questionable line of covid treatment is seen to have state sanction. In the spotlight of controversy is now convalescent plasma therapy, whereby an extract of the blood of a patient who has recovered from covid is given to a sick person, in the hope that the antibodies generated. by the donor’s body fight the virus in the recipient’s body. Before vaccines arrived, this “logic” may have seemed plausible enough for the idea to stand a chance, and it was used extensively by doctors across India. However, the scientific method requires proof of effectiveness. To persist in this without clinical validation would be not only madness, but scandalous. This is why an open letter from 18 health experts to the government’s senior scientific adviser, K. VijayRaghavan, with marked copies to the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS ), deserves high level attention. . With the signatories which include Dr Gagandeep Kang from Christian Medical College, Vellore, Dr Soumyadeep Bhaumik from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney and Dr Shahid Jameel from the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, the letter urges the Center to call for a moment to stop the practice of plasma therapy in the absence of evidence that it does good.
Calling the use of convalescent plasma against covid “irrational and unscientific,” the letter traces its widespread adoption to guidelines issued by the ICMR and AIIMS, and cites scientific test results in support of the claim that it offers “no benefit”. in the treatment of the disease. Even a randomized controlled trial of ICMR, she says, found no correlation between plasma use and “reduced progression to severe covid-19 or all-cause mortality.” Another trial involving 11,588 patients, she argues, found no difference in saving lives or helping healing. Even the ICMR-AIIMS nod to this therapy, she says, is for ânon-conformingâ use, which is tantamount to admitting that it has no medical clearance. possibility that its use in certain cases could promote the emergence of more virulent strains of Sars-CoV-2. Even if this danger is speculative or very unlikely, it should be sufficient to stop the plasma infusions.
In all cases, the families of covid patients must be relieved of the despair of finding plasma donors, not to mention the rigmarole of this hospital procedure, the associated risks and the resources mobilized. Covid survivors also need to be freed from the obligation to try to heal others. Yet pleas for plasma abound. Even a small sample of social media posts would reveal both the angst and energy that goes into it, usually at the behest of well-meaning doctors. Admittedly, this pandemic has not left us much room to catch our breath, and our understanding of its pathology remains a work in progress. But the Indian healthcare facility needs to keep abreast of scientific knowledge and use properly verified results to push our therapeutic practices up a common learning curve. Which drugs help and which don’t, unfortunately, is another source of confusion. At this point, it is essential that the ICMR review all data and issue new protocols for the treatment of covidus. These should be up to date, open to peer review, and relevant to valid research findings. May laxity no longer cause unnecessary suffering.
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