LA PAZ – Bolivia’s social media sites are filled with messages from desperate families looking for plasma donations for COVID-19 patients.
Authorities in the country have allowed plasma transfusions to be used to treat people infected with the new coronavirus.
This has triggered a wave of offers to sell blood for thousands of dollars, which is illegal, as well as calls from families to find a donor for their ill loved ones.
Many people wait at the entrance of blood banks in Santa Cruz, the country’s worst-hit city by the pandemic.
Others try to encourage donors by offering food, restaurant vouchers, discounts at supermarkets and even free online courses.
Wilder Mamani, who became a donor after overcoming the disease, tells EFE: “It’s a way to repay the treatment I received when I was a patient.”
“People who are selling plasma are doing wrong because many families in our country are poor, it’s taking advantage of that situation in the face of despair,” he adds.
This desperation is seen in the face of Magnun Rojas, who stands at the door of a blood bank with a sign asking for plasma for a critically ill family member who is in an intensive care unit.
He says his family is searching for a donor everywhere they can, including online, and would “do anything” to get a donation.
But this can be difficult as many donors already have a recipient when they arrive at the blood bank and time is of the essence for his sick loved one.
The authorization in mid-May for hyperimmune plasma treatments for patients has also given rise to blood sales, with some offering up to $3,000 for a donation.
This practice is illegal in Bolivia, under a law from 1996, as well as being unaffordable for many families.
Mohammed Mostajo, Bolivian ambassador for science, technology and innovation, warned of the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV, syphilis and hepatitis from black market transfusions.
A donor can help between two and four patients, depending on the dose, but charging for the procedure is an offense punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.
The issue was raised in parliament with a proposal that donation be made mandatory for people who have recovered from COVID-19 but this was not approved.
Whether from fear of prison or for other reasons, donation adverts are now filled with non-monetary rewards such as free restaurant dinners, sports tickets and discounts on insurance and real estate.
Manfred Roca, whose restaurant in Santa Cruz offers his top dish free to donors, says: “I was shocked by the sad news that people were selling plasma.”
His business is one example of innumerable initiatives designed to encourage people to give blood out of solidarity rather than in exchange for money.
Plasma treatment was used to save lives in the country during an outbreak of Bolivian hemorrhagic fever in the 1960s.
Transfusions have also meant that those infected with coronavirus are now seen as potential saviors in Bolivia, which has reported more than 23,500 infections and 700 deaths out of a population of 11 million.