After platelets and red blood cells are extracted from blood to treat patients of anaemia, dengue and malaria, the leftover plasma is often thrown away. But the 2016 national blood policy says the plasma should be used to make life-saving drugs.
In line with the national policy, the Madhya Pradesh Public Health Services Corporation Limited (MPPHSCL) is getting ready to float tenders for companies willing to separate plasma components.
“This move will help patients get albumin easily and also curtail black marketing because it will be available at nominal prices,” said KK Thassu, the state’s director of health services.
The companies will get plasma at Rs 1,600 a litre. They will have to extract human serum albumin from the plasma and return it to government blood banks.
Albumin is a protein in human plasma that helps maintain levels of calcium in the body and transports nutrients or drugs effectively in the blood stream. It is used for treating low blood protein, tuberculosis, cancers and severe burns.
Plasma is often thrown away in India because of preservation problems and lack of laboratories that can extract albumin from it.
Plasma worth Rs 6 lakh wasted in MP every year
“In our blood bank at least 15,000 units of plasma is wasted every year,” said an official at a prominent blood bank in Bhopal. The amount of plasma wasted in 2014 in Madhya Pradesh was worth Rs 6 crore. The shortage has opened a huge racket that sells albumin at a premium, on the sly.
Apart from Madhya Pradesh, shortages are reported in pharmacies and hospitals in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Jaipur, Chandigarh, and cities in Gujarat.
“I had to buy albumin for treating my father-in-law’s cancer. The chemist told me that only 180 bottles are available in the entire state, supplied by the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO). So, I had to buy it from illegal sources for Rs 8,000 for 100ml,” said Pradeep Khandelwal, a Bhopal resident.
He paid nearly double the normal cost, which ranges between Rs 4,300 and Rs 5,300.
The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) slashed the price of 100ml of albumin from Rs 4,000 in 2013 to Rs 1,650. But the cut led to illegal trade of the product, prompting the Drug Price Control Order (DPCO) to increase the price again.
India is dependent for its requirement of albumin on other countries
Fueling the racket is the fact that India is dependent on supply from the US, European nations and South Korea where albumin is processed from plasma.
“Over 25 million litres of plasma is segregated across the world every year. India is not capable of either processing the plasma locally or manufacturing therapeutic products,” said Lalit Jain, president of the medical association in Bhopal.
An NACO official said a government laboratory in Mumbai has the required equipment and knowhow for the purpose but it is being upgraded for the past 10 years. “It cannot take the load of the entire country. State health departments have the option of tying up with private labs for the purpose but a large chunk of plasma invariably goes waste,” he said.