Black market for patient plasma emerges in Egypt

CAIRO: A black market for the plasma of COVID-19 patients has emerged in Egypt, with people who have recovered from the disease offering to donate their blood for up to EGP30,000 ($1,884).

Egypt has had successful trials in which coronavirus patients were injected with the blood of those who have recovered, and the Ministry of Health has activated five blood banks nationwide for donations. 

Dr. Ehab Serag El-Din, director of the ministry’s Regional Blood Transmission Service, said that the black market emerged after Health Minister Dr. Hala Zayed announced the trial’s positive results.

“If a considerable number of those recovered donate there will be no black market,” Serag El-Din told Arab News. “But if some do not, there will be a black market that we are seeing. Moreover, there are unlawful calls for plasma donations in which more than EGP20,000 was put up on social media. We also saw on social media calls for donations of ventilators, which is totally not right because people who have been put on ventilators cannot be dealt with using plasma injections. The minister of health has explained this more than once. She said a plasma injection is doable for people who have not been put on a ventilator. People who received plasma turned from positive to negative faster than others and they spent less time in hospital.”

The issue of injecting coronavirus patients with the plasma of recovered patients was still in the experimental stage and undergoing clinical studies, he said. “The health minister will announce the results and afterward the experiments can be generalized and many patients will benefit from it,” he added.

 “It is not permissible to donate to private hospitals and labs. Moreover, it is not permissible to donate to a particular patient. I advise recovered patients to donate only at government centers allocated for donations because they are safer.”

Religious institutions have blessed the official donation initiative and encouraged those who have recovered from the disease to help others, citing a verse in the Holy Qur’an: “Whoever saved it (life) it is as though he had saved all mankind.”

Dar Al-Ifta, one of the principal Islamic bodies in Egypt, said that blood donation was religiously permissible and there was nothing wrong with it. “It is part of the social responsibility shouldered by patients who have recovered from the virus. A person who does it shall be rewarded.”

Serag El-Din addressed Egypt’s low blood bank supplies, saying that shortages also fueled the black market. It suffered from a 40 to 50 percent deficiency annually and the donation need for any country was three percent of its total population, he explained. “Egypt’s population is 100 million. Hence, we need three million blood bags annually. But in fact, we receive 650,000 blood bags annually via donations.”

Dr. Adel Magdy, who works in the blood donation field, said that there was a decline in donations after the pandemic began because people were afraid of becoming infected. “Furthermore, some who contracted the virus were very close to death and even more afraid to get infected again,” he told Arab News.

Egypt has 35,444 confirmed cases, 10,618 recoveries and a death toll of 1,271 to date.

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