ISTANBUL: When musician Zoraiz Riaz set up a Facebook group to help coordinate convalescent plasma donations for people fighting COVID-19 in Pakistan, he expected perhaps a few hundred responses.
Within a month, however, the "Corona Recovered Warriors" group had more than 320,000 members, needing a team of 33 volunteers to manage posts from families of patients across Pakistan seeking advice.
"Around 85% are looking for plasma," Riaz, 27, told Reuters from his home in the eastern Pakistani metropolis of Lahore, one of the hardest-hit cities in the South Asian nation, which has recorded nearly 210,000 infections and over 4,300 deaths from the virus.
"The rest are looking for different medical supplies, oxygen, ventilators, injections for drugs, or leads on hospitals that have availability," Riaz added.
The scale of the response highlights the large gap left by a disorganised healthcare system in Pakistan which is ill-equipped to offer systematic guidance as COVID-19 deaths mount.The group this week featured the country's top expert giving advice on convalescent plasma treatment.
"There was no clear guidance from the government, and we had to face this urgent amount of requests for plasma from almost everyone, even people whose medical consultants were not recommending it were coming to us asking for plasma," Riaz said.
Plasma treatment, involving the infusion of plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient to a recovering one as a source of antibodies, is widely sought despite limited information on its effectiveness. Leading Pakistani haematologists warned this month the treatment had become widespread and that government guidelines were urgently needed - particularly with a burgeoning black market for plasma. Health officials finally put in place national standards for plasma treatment and warned the public that the sale of plasma is illegal.