Coronavirus COVID-19, a glass sculpture by Luke Jerram (Photo: Getty Images)
Almost a week before the US Food and Drug Administration announced a plan to facilitate the use of plasma of recovered Covid-19 patients to treat new cases, doctors and scientists in Kerala have prepared and submitted a protocol for such a therapy with Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR).
Doctors treating Covid-19 patients in Kerala are awaiting ICMR’s nod, Dr Anoop Kumar AS, Consultant Intensivist and Chief, Critical Care Medicine at Baby Memorial Hospital, told Open. Kumar is a member of expert panel helping the Kerala government with battling the Covid-19 pandemic. He is an award-winning critical care specialist who first identified the outbreak of Nipah virus in the state on the early morning in May 17, 2018, and then helped prevent the spread of the viral disease whose mortality rate was 89%.
Interestingly, it was only on April 3 that the USFDA launched a program called the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which is funded by the federal government and is backed by the Mayo Clinic, American Red Cross, several universities and hospitals. Meanwhile, reports suggest that in the US, some hospitals are using convalescent plasma to treat critical Covid-19 patients on compassionate grounds.
Says Dr Kumar of the treatment using convalescent serum: “Once we are certain that a patient is completely free of the Covid-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2), his/her plasma is collected and administered to new patients to treat them. Some 600-800 ml of plasma from a single patient is enough to treat multiple patients who can be given 200 ml each before they get any major lung damage, which, in medical parlance, is called Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Through this therapy, we can drastically reduce major lung complications in a Covid-19 patient.” Thiruvananthapuram-based Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology is involved in this effort.
Dr Kumar said that Kerala’s Covid-19 strategy also includes buying the so-called magical Cuban drug Interferon. Interferon treatment in Covid-19 patients has proved to be useful. “Once ICMR sanctions it, we will look at importing the wonder drug with the help of the Cuban embassy in India,” Kumar said. According to Helen Yaffe of the University of Glasgow, who is the author of We are Cuba!, “Cuba first developed and used interferons to arrest a deadly outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981, and that experience catalysed the development of the island’s now world-leading biotech industry.” A report in Newsweek magazine said, “Cuba first used advanced interferon techniques to treat dengue fever in the 1980s and later found success in using it to combat HIV, human papillomavirus, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and other diseases.” ICMR officials were not immediately available for comments.
Dr Kumar said the state’s Covid-19 hospitals will also start using Tocilizumab, which is mainly used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, among Covid-19 patients because it is found to be effective. As of now, anti-Ebola drug Remdesivir, which is being used by some countries to treat Covid-19 patients, is not available in India. Many hospitals are using malarial as well as HIV drugs to treat Covid-19 patients in order to bring down mortality rates.
In Kerala, Dr Kumar said, a group of critical care physicians are currently training doctors in “Covid hospitals” where patients are identified and isolated in offering advance medical care. This means critical care will soon be available to patients in the state’s Covid-19 hospitals, or hospitals designated to treat Coronavirus patients.