‘The treatment is within you’
Plenty of yellow billboards carrying the message “The treatment is within you” can be seen around Cairo these days. The same message is also being delivered in TV ads. Both are part of a campaign launched by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to encourage the public to donate plasma to reach self-sufficiency in it and its derivatives.
Blood plasma, which makes up about 55 per cent of the body’s total blood volume, is a yellowish liquid component of blood that holds proteins and other blood constituents. Awareness of treatment with plasma increased at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 when convalescent plasma therapy was used to treat severely ill patients.
Two-thousand people have so far donated their blood to Egypt’s six plasma donation centres in five governorates. Twenty more centres will be set up by the end of this year.
The campaign aims at producing plasma-derived medicines as the antibodies and proteins present in plasma used in therapies for many serious health problems and rare chronic health conditions, including autoimmune disorders, hemophilia, and liver and kidney diseases.
According to Khaled Megahed, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Population, the six donation centres can take up to 90 people and can collect 300,000 litres of blood annually. The centres operate from 8am to 10pm. Donors should be between 18 and 60 years old, and should weigh not less than 60kg. PCR tests must be performed twice with a negative result both times for blood donations to be accepted. Donations are to be given 14 days after the second PCR negative result, Megahed said.
The ministry, according to Megahed, has put up plasma centres in Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Gharbiya, and Minya. Donations are allowed once every two weeks in order not to risk donors’ health, Megahed said, pointing out that donating plasma helps in activating bone marrow to produce new blood cells and renewing plasma proteins. He stressed that a free full health check-up of the donor is carried out periodically.
Donating plasma is simpler than donating blood, Nevine Al-Nahhas, supervisor of the national plasma donation project, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Citizens should not worry about donating plasma as all of the ministry’s donating centres have the most advanced equipment and technology in accordance with international standards, Al-Nahhas said, adding that the body can easily restore lost plasma within 48 hours.
According to Al-Nahhas, the project for plasma manufacturing aims to produce drugs related to blood derivatives such as albumin-factor 8 and immunoglobulin. In December, parliament approved a law submitted by the government on regulating blood operations and collecting plasma for the manufacture and export of plasma derivatives.
The draft law included a road map for the collection of plasma and its derivatives in order to achieve self-sufficiency. It included five chapters consisting of 23 articles related to blood operations, plasma collection, manufacture of plasma-derived products and plasma transfusion with the intention of manufacturing its derivatives abroad and then returning them in the form of biological products. The law also covered the import and export of plasma as a raw material or as a material for any stage of the manufacturing process.
The Egyptian Arab Company for Drug Industries and Medical Appliances and the South Korean company SK Plasma signed a memorandum of understanding worth $330 million to build the first factory in Egypt, Africa and the Middle East for plasma derivatives as well as transferring plasma technology to Egypt, Al-Nahhas noted.
“We currently import 100 per cent of plasma derivatives, hence the importance of the plasma collection and separation project,” she said. Several international bodies have praised the plasma collection centres in Egypt’s Ministry of Health laboratories, so it was essential to have legislation that would guarantee the governance of the process, Al-Nahhas noted, adding that “plasma and its derivatives treat life-threatening diseases.”
Training cadres and personnel involved in implementing the plan is currently taking place, according to Ehab Serageddin, director of the Health Ministry’s National Blood Bank Services. “All the necessary equipment for plasma separation has been provided. The national plasma project would start by collecting plasma and manufacturing its derivatives in cooperation with the South Korean company SK Plasma until the construction of a factory in Egypt is completed,” Serageddin said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.