COVID-19 warrior Dr Abhijit Sarma is back on duty after battling the coronavirus that he contracted while on duty on July 19. The Guwahati Medical College Hospital superintendent was given convalescent plasma soon after he was infected and he believes it worked.
"Our experience here has been that whenever the saturation falls below 95, early plasma therapy has been a great help. It has really helped to catch the falling saturation levels and that applies to me too. I was a COVID-19 patient with falling saturation. My saturation went down to 92. I was given plasma and saturation went up to 98 within six hours," Dr Sarma told NDTV.
Since the first unit was donated on July 9, Assam has been using plasma therapy in a big scale.
The state has reported on an average 2,000 fresh cases this fortnight, and logged over 60,000 cases, but it is among the top five in mortality rate. With deaths of over 160 patients, the state is banking on convalescent plasma therapy to keep its mortality rate low.
According to data available with the National Health Mission, Assam had till August 10 some 155 people who donated 273 units of plasma; 211 units have been administered to 128 patients, who are recovering.
The state is confident that plasma therapy has capped mortality at about 0.25 per cent, among the lowest in the country, though experts are still wary about labelling it a magic bullet.
"Regarding efficacy, it is too early to say how much it can work. Yes, it has worked in some patients. Plasma therapy also has side effect similar to that of blood transfusion," said Dr Kripesh Ranjan Sarmah, a pulmonologist at Apollo Hospitals in Guwahati.
Assam has two other strategies up its sleeve - large-scale testing and aggressive treatment.
"Our protocol is to get plasma. Remdesivir is for very crucial stage. We start treating a patient very aggressively once we see his or her oxygen saturation is dipping fast. We are planning to touch one lakh tests figure per day. If we do that, by end of this month our per million testing would be 60,000," Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told NDTV.
For now, the strategy of early plasma therapy is working for some people. "I thought I won't be able to return home after COVID-19 since I have co-morbidities," said 70-year-old Hem Chandra Bhattacharjy, a resident of Guwahati. His health improved after he was injected plasma at the COVID-19 intensive care unit of GMCH. He was discharged from hospital last week.