How a WhatsApp Group by a Doctor Led to Kerala’s First Plasma Bank

A WhatsApp group by a doctor in Malappuram district led to the creation of Kerala’s first plasma bank.

Published
Coronavirus
5 min read
A WhatsApp group by a doctor in Malappuram district led to the creation of Kerala’s first plasma bank.
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A WhatsApp group by a doctor in Malappuram district led to the creation of Kerala’s first plasma bank at Manjeri Medical College Hospital, which is a COVID specific hospital.

Dr Shinas Babu, a nodal officer for COVID-19 in the college, has been handling the cases, supervising the WhatsApp groups and mobilising people for plasma donation at a time when the number of COVID-19 infections are rising in Kerala.

As on 22 July, there are 1,337 COVID-19 cases in Malappuram, of which 1,035 are passengers who had traveled to Kerala and 302 are contact cases.

‘When It Comes to Treatment, Kerala Is the Best’

As on 22 July, there are 1,337 COVID-19 cases in Malappuram, of which 1,035 are passengers who had traveled to Kerala and 302 are contact cases.
As on 22 July, there are 1,337 COVID-19 cases in Malappuram, of which 1,035 are passengers who had traveled to Kerala and 302 are contact cases.
(Photo: Kerala Health Department)

24-year-old Adil Shamreed is a staff nurse in the 108 ambulance service in Malappuram and was working through the lockdown.

“When we need to pick up COVID positive cases, we always wear a PPE kit. We also transfer patients, take persons for COVID testing and so I don't know how exactly I contracted the virus,” he said. When he went for a regular screening, he was tested positive for coronavirus and was shifted to Manjeri Medical College Hospital for further treatment.

“They really take care of us really well. They even made sure that we were all never depressed and mentally unwell.”
Adil Shamreed, Staff, 108 Ambulance
How a WhatsApp Group by a Doctor Led to Kerala’s First Plasma Bank
Adil Shamreed was all praise for the head nurse Leeja and Dr Shinas Babu.

Dr Babu also makes arrangements for patients to be housed in COVID care centres, even for the 14 days of quarantine after being discharged from hospitals, so that they can avoid all risk of exposure.

“I didn't want to go home so my doctor arranged for an institutional quarantine setup because I was skeptical about how my neighbourhood would react to a health worker who had contracted the virus and was returning home for quarantine,” Shamreed said.

Meanwhile, 28-year-old Yousuf had returned from Bahrain in the second week of July and was tested positive upon arrival. “It has been nine years since I’ve been working there and my wife and kids live here in Kerala. I was working as a cashier in a wholesale shop. I deal with cash everyday and have had contact with many people, so I am not sure how I contracted it. No one else in the shop and on the flight have been tested positive so far,” he told FIT.

“Compared to Bahrain or anywhere, Kerala is the best. How much ever I do for that doctor and all the medical staff, it will not be enough. That’s how well they took care of us.”
Yousuf, Bahrain Returnee

Those Who Recover Turn Into Guides to Help Out the Patients

Since the hospital began treating for coronavirus, Dr Shinas Babu made WhatsApp groups of patients to create a platform where they could clarify all their doubts.

Dr Shinas calls the patients at least once a week and even visits them at their homes.
Dr Shinas calls the patients at least once a week and even visits them at their homes.
(Photo: The Quint)
Today, there are four WhatsApp groups with over 406 patients in it.

“Any doubts regarding the treatment, government facilities, complaints about water or food not reaching them on time, and literally anything can be asked on this group. Four patients who have recovered have been appointed as admins of these groups who clarify their doubts. They give them the confidence about the treatment being given. I only supervise these groups and step in at times during any issues,” Dr Shinas Babu told The Quint.

The patients who have recovered extend emotional support to other patients, talk to them when they panic about the social stigma and inform them about how they can opt for institutional quarantine facilities provided by the government, he said.

Many of the patients we spoke to told that it is this positive reinforcement from those who had gone through the same and the direct contact with the doctor really helped them heal quicker.

“To recover what we need is for our hearts and minds to be strong. And this is what our doctor told us and everyone should know this.”
Yousuf
Many of the patients we spoke to told that it is this positive reinforcement from those who had gone through the same and the direct contact with the doctor really helped them heal quicker.
Many of the patients we spoke to told that it is this positive reinforcement from those who had gone through the same and the direct contact with the doctor really helped them heal quicker.
(Photo: The Quint)

The head nurse Leeja calls all the patients everyday even after they are discharged to check on their health. Dr Shinas calls them at least once a week and even visits them at their homes.

Over 9 Persons Received Plasma Therapy

Dr Shinas Babu began by using the Whatsapp groups to explain to patients undergoing treatment the benefits of plasma therapy, and how plasma donation from recovered patients can offer protection.

Convalescent plasma treatment is an experimental procedure for coronavirus patients, in which antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from coronavirus are used to treat moderate to severe COVID-19 patients. Currently, off-label use of the therapy has been approved by the Health Ministry.

“The doctor encouraged us to donate plasma by explaining how people have been treated using this. We very readily did this because it is going to help someone live,” said Nandakumar, who had returned from Dubai.

Nandakumar takes pride in being a plasma donor.
Nandakumar takes pride in being a plasma donor.
(Photo: The Quint)

One of the benefits of this therapy is that it is tried and tested, a low-risk treatment and has been used in the past in other infectious outbreaks, especially viral outbreaks like SARS. However, it has still not been concluded as a confirmed method of treating the virus as COVID-19 is a new disease and the pool to test this on is not that large.

"When over 64 people donated their plasma, we decided to start a plasma bank here in Malappuram. So far we have given plasma therapy to six persons in Malappuram, and even sent it across to people in Kozhikode , Kannur and Alapuzha. A total of 9 persons who have received it have completely recovered. We have over 200 persons on different WhatsApp groups who have expressed their willingness to donate.” Dr Babu told FIT.

Nandakumar takes pride in being a plasma donor.
Nandakumar takes pride in being a plasma donor.
(Photo: The Quint)

He clarified that plasma therapy is a treatment method that has been there even before coronavirus, there are no major side-effects and is “just like blood-transfusion.”

The donor has to be between 18-50 years, weigh more than 55 kg and be free of any co-morbidities. The plasma can be taken 14 days after a person tests negative twice for coronavirus.

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