When Delhi-based furniture designer Kanupriya Mal’s father tested positive for COVID-19 in May, the family found it tough to find him a plasma donor. “It was really hard, we had organised one immediately but it did not fit the hospital’s criteria, so it was really frustrating, it took us five days as we couldn’t get enough information,” she told The Indian Express. The only thing they could do was reach out to friends and family over social media.
After her father recovered, the family was inundated with calls from people wanting to understand the process of arranging a plasma donation. Soon, a conversation between Mal’s husband, Adwitya, and his London-based friend Mukul Pawha, led the trio to create Dhoondh, an online portal through which they connect hospitalised Covid patients, who have been recommended plasma therapy, with recovered patients, willing to donate.
While the Delhi government launched its first plasma bank at Vasant Kunj’s ILBS Hospital Thursday, several such citizen-led initiatives were already gone live in Delhi-NCR, in the last one month, which matched plasma donors with patients. On these websites and online portals, a patient’s family had to provide basic details along with the doctor’s prescription, which is mandatory. Side by side, donors also register; the two are matched after a quick verification.
Three days after Dhoondh went live, it saw over a hundred patients registering. Meanwhile, KAB Welfare Foundation (KABWF), an NGO engaged in blood donation drives since 2017, had been attending to over 300 requests on a daily basis. “It was in May that we started receiving calls everyday from families looking for plasma donors, so we decided to use our network to bridge this gap,” founder Bhawna Arora told The Indian Express.
But the donor to patient ratio disparity is pretty high, said Mal. “For every 100 patients, we have about 20 donors registered,” she said. Umesh Arora, a Faridabad resident, who is working with the local administration to mobilise plasma donation, said that out of the thousand recovered people that they reached out to, 20 agreed to donate. “One of the reasons for these low numbers is that there is very little information about plasma donation. Some, who have recovered, don’t know about it, and the rest are scared; or their families are worried, or they want to save it for their own family members,” said Mal, adding that “all three could be handled with proper information in the public sphere”.
“One of the main tasks we’ve taken up is to raise awareness about this and guide families,” said Vivek Jain, India Head, KABWF. “Patients and their families don’t want to return to the hospital and relive the trauma”, he said. The organisation has also devised strict protocols to encourage donors. “We ask patient’s families to arrange pick and drop facilities and provide a PPE kit to the donor,” he said.
Noida-based Bharat Nagpal, who set up the website plasmadonor.in a fortnight ago, has a team of 10 volunteers who are engaged in calling recovered patients, to inform and motivate them. “Many of them, who are not as educated, think that plasma is an organ in the body that has to be donated, so if we talk to them in their local lingo and explain what it exactly is, that can really help,” he said.
At the same time, hospitals also need to be more transparent, said Jain. “A lot of our recent challenges include dealing with the barter system that has started within families and with the hospitals; many donors are being selective on who they want to help or do not,” said Jain.
However, Mal hoped that a chain of kindness starts in Delhi, as it has “a huge number of recovered people”. “The government cannot function without the civil society. We want to be the link between the needy and the service provider,” said Jain.
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