7 COVID-19 survivors donate plasma at PGH for experimental treatment

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 13 2020 09:45 PM

At least 2 COVID-19 patients in PGH receive plasma donation

MANILA — The Philippine General Hospital on Monday said 7 COVID-19 survivors have already donated plasma for an experimental treatment against the new coronavirus.

Dr. Jonas Del Rosario, PGH spokesperson, told radio DZMM that after posting a call for plasma donations to help severe and critical COVID-19 cases, 65 recovered patients have sent inquiries.

Of those, 25 passed the criteria and were able to undergo blood extraction.

"From the 25, so far, 7 po ang nakapag-donate na (ng plasma) sa amin sa Philippine General Hospital,” he said.

(From the 25, so far, 7 have been able to donate to the Philippine General Hospital.)

Convalescent plasma therapy involves the transfusion or plasma, the liquid component of blood, from a recovered patient to a sick patient.

Del Rosario said two COVID-19 patients at the hospital's intensive care unit have already received the plasma transfusion. One is in his 40s, and the other patient is in his 70s.

“Pareho silang malubha at sila ay nabigyan ng plasma kagabi. So far, maganda po, walang complications. Inaantay natin ang clinical improvements,” he said.

(They are both severe cases and they were given plasma last night. So far, there are no complications. We are waiting for clinical improvements.)

Del Rosario said another patient was scheduled to receive plasma transfusion Monday.

Del Rosario explained that plasma from recovered patients is believed to be helpful in treating COVID-19 because it already has antibodies.

“We take advantage of those antibodies. Ipapasa natin ngayon sa isang pasyente na lumalaban sa sakit (We’ll pass it on to a patient who is still battling the disease),” he said.

He called it a “passive form of immunity” as opposed to vaccines, which is considered an active form of immunity.

Del Rosario said he cannot tell when the recipient will manifest positive results from the plasma transfusion. "But within the next hours or days, what we want to happen or what we expect is dapat, maka-recover or mag-improve yung condition ng pasyente (the patient will start recovering or will have improved condition," he said.

For example, if the patient is on ventilator and is having difficulty in breathing, "hopefully, with the plasma therapy," there will be less reliance on the ventilator and oxygen level will rise, among many parameters of an improved condition, he said.

Del Rosario said a qualified donor can donate multiple times (may be done every other two weeks), but a suitable recipient can only accept donated plasma once for now.

Because it will take months and even years to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, experts around the world have started using plasma therapy to help patients with severe symptoms. The same treatment was used in past epidemics.

The World Health Organization called it a valid approach, especially after China and other countries have started using it. 

“You are essentially giving the new victim's immune system a boost of antibodies to hopefully get them through the very difficult phase,” Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies program, said back in February.

Del Rosario said evidence of plasma therapy is still considered “anecdotal,” with the Chinese experts they talked to saying that the use of the treatment has brought about good results.

“Very promising but this is under compassionate therapy or treatment,” he said.

Del Rosario said only those who have recovered and have not been sick for the last 2 weeks can donate plasma.

Donors should also be healthy and should not have any pre-existing illnesses.

COVID-19 survivors who are interested in donating plasma may call the PGH hotline at 155-200. They will be asked to answer a questionnaire over the phone.

Del Rosario said those who pass the initial screening will be visited by a PGH team at their house. They will have to give their informed consent and a small sample of blood.

Those who pass the blood test will then be invited to the University of the Philippines College of Medicine to donate. Each donor is matched to one patient.

Del Rosario said the convalescent plasma therapy of the PGH is its own undertaking, and other facilities like the St. Luke's Hospital also conduct their own.

The Department of Health reminded hospitals to get a patient’s informed consent since the treatment is still experimental.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, during a DOH briefing on Monday, said the results of the transfusion will also have to be reported to the Food and Drug Administration since the treatment requires a special permit.

Del Rosario said the PGH now has 100 COVID-19 patients and 10 probable cases. While this meant that 85% of their beds allocated for COVID-19 have already been occupied, he said they now have a good flow of patients.

The PGH is one of the country’s referral hospitals for COVID-19.

As of Monday, there has been 4,932 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country. Of that number, 242 have recovered and 315 have died.