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Mohamed Fathi, an Egyptian recovering from COVID-19, winced when he saw tubes run down his arm to donate blood plasma, but insisted, "If I can help just one person, that's one thing very good thing. "
The 25-year-old land surveyor from Cairo fell ill with the disease on the eve of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival in May and became one of the nearly 100,000 reported cases in Egypt in which more than 5,000 people died from the novel coronavirus.
"Losing your sense of taste was a terrible experience," he told AFP at the Egyptian National Blood Transfusion Headquarters in Cairo, describing just one of his symptoms. "You feel like you're eating because of it."
Things got worse for the family when his older father was also infected, which made Egypt's hot summer months a hell of a time, worrying about his recovery from a loud, dry cough and constant fever.
"I came today to donate because I didn't want anyone else to go through what I and my family went through," said the softly spoken young man, one of about 200 volunteers who had taken part in the youth project so far .
Egypt, like the United States and a handful of other countries, is trying to partially combat the pandemic with convalescent plasma, the watery fluid in the blood of recovered patients that is full of antibodies.
After U.S. President Donald Trump touted this as a temporary cure, his government issued an emergency permit last month to use plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients.
The idea is to harvest the plasma and inject it into other patients to give them an immunological boost that will help fight the same infection.
The scientific community is divided over the use of plasma to treat COVID-19, but proponents say the technique has been shown to be effective in small studies to treat other infectious diseases, including Ebola and SARS.
& # 39; A glimmer of hope & # 39;
Clinical plasma studies to combat the new pandemic have also started in Bolivia, Great Britain, Colombia, India, Mexico, Pakistan and South Korea.
Ihab Serageldin, director of Egypt's National Blood Transfusion Center, believes convalescent plasma is a promising treatment as the race continues to develop, mass-produce and market an effective vaccine.
Since April, he has led the Egyptian campaign, urging the country's 78,000+ known rescued patients to donate their plasma.
"Coronavirus is one of those viruses that has no manual … we are fighting an unknown enemy, so any form of treatment that offers a glimmer of hope to hold on to," he told AFP.
"If the US didn't find it promising, it wouldn't have launched a national campaign asking recovered virus patients to donate their plasma," he said.
Serageldin said in Egypt, eligible donors must be between 18 and 60 years old, weigh at least 50 kilograms, and have produced a certain quality of antibodies.
To date, over 200 people have donated plasma, each dividing 800 ml of the liquid into four sachets, each given to two patients.
Serageldin said there is still no data on the success rate of the Egyptian plasma project.
Budding black market
He said that much more donations are needed and stressed that "blood donations are generally low in Egypt so we are working to raise public awareness."
The low number of donors prompted 37-year-old advertising professional Ahmed Mostafa to create an app called Mosanda ("Support") to connect recovered patients with the infected.
Mostafa had a strong motivation – he had also contracted the disease in late May.
"After a month of exhaustion from the virus, I wanted to help improve the lives of other patients," he said.
Together with a web developer and doctors, he designed the user-friendly Android app, which was released in June.
"We want to be the connection between patients, but the response has been very slow," he said.
With minimal online acceptance, he plans to expand his app into a general blood donation service to meet another urgent need in the tense Egyptian health sector.
Mostafa also sees the app and a regulated, centralized plasma project as a safe alternative to an emerging black market.
In June, local media reported that plasma bags from rescued patients were informally traded for over 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US $ 1,200) each.
While a parliamentarian called for the practice to be criminalized, Egypt's leading Muslim institution, Al-Azhar, ruled that Islamic law does not allow plasma to be traded informally, and lambasted those who "benefit from the pandemic".
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Egypt tries plasma treatment to fight pandemic (2020, September 8)
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