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May 1, 2020

Health dept allows clinical trials of passive COVID-19 immunisation

The Sindh Health Department on Thursday allowed three hospitals in the province — two in Karachi and one in Hyderabad — to start experimental use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma for the treatment of patients who are infected with the novel coronavirus and are showing moderate to severe symptoms.

The three health facilities that have been allowed by the provincial government to start clinical trials are the Dr Ruth KM Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), the National Institute of Blood Diseases (NIBD) and Hyderabad’s Liaquat University Hospital.

“Following Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP], the Sindh Health Department has also allowed starting clinical trials of convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 patients at three of the province’s hospitals,” NIBD head Prof Dr Tahir Shamsi told The News.

“We are now going to select 350 COVID-19 patients under treatment at nine health facilities in the country and start clinical trials of convalescent plasma on them,” said the eminent haematologist.

Dr Shamsi said the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan had allowed medical professionals to start clinical trials of the use of convalescent plasma in the entire Pakistan.

Following that, he added, the health departments of Punjab, KP, Balochistan and Sindh had allowed them to use the technique known as passive immunisation to treat patients infected with COVID-19.

“Our aim is to prevent COVID-19 patients under treatment at different hospitals from going onto life support. We believe convalescent plasma from healthy COVID-19 patients that is rich in coronavirus antibodies can reduce the viral load in the bodies of the infected patients and help them recover fast.”

Dr Shamsi said the technique is used when there is a high risk of infection and insufficient time for the body to develop its own immune response or to reduce the symptoms of ongoing or immunosuppressive diseases.

“A team of health experts including haematologists, infectious disease specialists, intensivists (or ICU specialists) and a representative of the Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority will supervise the clinical trials at the three hospitals.”

He said that mainly patients undergoing treatment at the CHK in Karachi and the Liaquat University Hospital in Hyderabad would be given convalescent plasma with the hope of recovery from COVID-19.

Passive immunisation is an old technique used in the absence of a vaccine to treat infectious diseases, he added.

“We believe that with the transfusion of convalescent plasma of healthy COVID-19 patients to active patients, viral load in the bodies of the patients would reduce to an extent where they would not require the support of ventilator and they would recover from the disease.”

He said these trials would also be conducted at the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar, the Shaikh Zayed Hospital in Quetta, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Hospital in Rawalpindi, and Lahore’s Pakistan Kidney & Liver Institute and Postgraduate Medical Institute.

Replying to a query, Dr Shamsi said healthy COVID-19 patients who have tested negative twice can donate their blood for plasma extraction after two weeks of recovery, adding that with one donation, they can treat two such patients.

“The NIBD is equipped with four machines that can extract plasma from 40 patients a day,” he said. He believes the health of COVID-19 patients would start improving within 48 hours of undergoing treatment, and the patients would recuperate in the following six days.

“I appeal to all the healthy COVID-19 patients all over the country who have recovered from this disease to donate their blood so that lives of others could be saved by using their plasma and antibodies.”