Starting at the end of 2019 and affecting the whole world in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on the field of blood services, just as in many areas. On one hand, the Turkish Red Crescent Blood Services team has taken personal protective measures; on the other hand, the team has structured its work and business processes on creating awareness for voluntary, unpaid, regular blood donations; obtaining blood and blood components under appropriate conditions; performing the necessary tests; storing them; and delivering them to transfusion centers in accordance with the reality of the epidemic. Continuous efforts to provide sustainable and safe blood throughout the country have been maintained through communication campaigns and collaborative efforts conducted despite the curfews, social distancing practices, transmission risks affecting blood donation rates, and decreased supplies in some periods.
One important impact from the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of blood services has also been seen in the prominence of immune plasma therapy. Immune plasma therapy, which means using the blood plasma collected from patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who’ve recovered on critically ill patients, began being applied in countries all over the world as an easy-to-access and logistically viable option in the struggle with the pandemic. When immune plasma therapy applications came to the agenda in Turkey, applied practices related to laboratory tests brought the Turkish Red Crescent to the fore in the supply of immune plasma thanks to the existing infrastructure in donor relations and donor outreach, the equipment and personnel infrastructure able to deliver services nationwide in collecting immune plasma, and the blood bank activities that have been carried out.
The Turkish Red Crescent has taken up the task of supplying immune plasma alongside its routine roles in blood banking due to the pandemic process. In this context, international practices and immune plasma guidelines from other countries were examined in March 2020; as a result of the studies carried out with the Ministry of Health in April, the decision was made to rapidly restructure this area in Turkey within the scope of emergency situations and to make immune plasma available for use. The Immune Plasma Guide was also published by the Ministry of Health in April. The Turkish Red Crescent also provided expert support in creating this relevant guide. Together with the guide’s publication, Standard Operating Procedures were created for immune plasma production in April; a portion of the apheresis machine circuit was organized for this task, necessary personnel training was given, and software was adapted to this process. A regulation was made for the Turkish Red Crescent to be able to provide ISBT 128 barcode numbers to the permitted hospitals apart from the Red Crescent on being able to monitor all the immune plasma collected in Turkey; hospitals were allowed to request immune plasma using the online system. In addition to these regulations on managing the plasma process, a communication campaign was initiated for motivating our recovering citizens to donate immune plasma.
Appointment processes were carried out through the call center and online appointment system for our citizens who wanted to donate. Appointments are made this way when there are curfew restrictions in order to ensure the continuity of plasma donations. The first immune plasma donation was received at the beginning of April, and the standard COVID-19 antibody test began to be performed on the immune plasma collected in May. As of the beginning of 2021, 51,157 units of immune plasma had been collected by the Turkish Red Crescent and 5,391 units by the authorized hospitals; the Red Crescent and hospitals respectively obtained 114,944 and 11,321 units of immune plasma from the collected immune plasma over 10 months. More than 500,000 citizens were contacted via the call center for collecting immune plasma, with the immune plasma being distributed to 588 hospitals.
The Turkish Red Crescent Blood Services team has continued to fulfill its duties in the fight against COVID-19 and to fulfill its service to our country by adapting to the new norm with new work areas such as immune plasma supply while conducting studies on a safe and continuous blood supply with the principle of “Blood is not an urgent need, it is a constant one.”