After being forced to take speedy action last year to stave off an impending shortage of blood products, the Thai Red Cross Society made a momentous decision, expediting plans to set up a plasma fractionation plant here. It will be the first of its kind in all of Southeast Asia.
The National Blood Centre is the Red Cross division responsible for ensuring that healthcare providers nationwide have sufficient supplies of red blood cells, platelets and plasma, the three components into which blood donations are separated.
Using a procedure called fractionation, plasma is further processed to produce three derivatives which are vital for treating several chronic diseases. The National Blood Centre has been making these plasma-derived products since 1979, but it has long encountered difficulties in meeting local demand. To make up the shortfall, it has had to import supplies from other countries.
"This has directly affected hospitals nationwide," said Phan Wannamethee, secretary-general of the Thai Red Cross, "while at the same time patients are forced to bear the cost of these extremely expensive imported plasma derivatives."
Setting up a plasma fractionation plant here will not only help reduce the country's medical bills, but will also give more people access to treatments that are currently beyond their reach because of the prohibitive price of imported plasma products.
"The establishment of the plant is a collaborative venture between four major organisations, namely the National Health Security Office, the Thai Food and Drug Administration, the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation and the Thai Red Cross Society," Phan explained.
It will be constructed on a 10-rai plot owned by the Red Cross in tambon Bang Phra, Si Racha district, Chon Buri. A budget of 2 billion baht has been allocated for building and equipping the facility which is expected to be capable of producing three essential types of plasma derivative: albumin; intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG); and Factor VIII.
Albumin, which currently accounts for 18% of all blood-product imports, is used to treat kidney diseases, cancer and diabetes. IVIG is commonly used as a treatment for auto-immune conditions and HIV/Aids, while Factor VIII is an effective weapon to fight haemophilia A, a genetic disorder that impairs the body's ability to control blood clotting, resulting in serious internal bleeding.
Statistics from the Ministry of Public Health show that almost 270,000 cancer patients required hospitalisation in 2010. According to an official projection, at least 133,000 new cases of cancer, chronic and genetic diseases will occur in Thailand over the next three years. The lives of some of these patients may be extended by products from the Chon Buri facility which is expected to be up and running by 2015.
"The plant will have a production capacity of over 200,000 litres of plasma per year," Phan revealed.
In July 2011, the Red Cross signed a memorandum of understanding with Green Cross Corporation, a Korean pharmaceutical firm, covering the transfer of technological know-how to manufacture the three products mentioned above. And earlier this month, the two sides inked a definitive agreement on the construction of the plasma plant, the first incidence of healthcare corporation between Thailand and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
"The construction of the plant will considerably contribute to strengthening healthcare security for Thai people by reducing the amount of money spent on imported blood products and extending access to related treatments," noted South Korean Ambassador Jeon Jae-man.
Only four nations in Asia _ South Korea, Japan, China and India _ have so far realised the importance of self-sufficiency in the production of plasma derivatives. Most countries in Southeast and Central Asia and the Middle East rely entirely on imports of such products.
"The construction of the plant will help Thailand's financial stability by reducing the need to import costly plasma-derived pharmaceuticals. Products available within the country will become cheaper and Thailand will become more self-reliant. It will also be a contributing factor ... enabling us to provide medical services on an international scale," Phan enthused.
"It will help elevate the standard of healthcare here and create a sustainable medical environment in which people will be offered good-quality pharmaceutical products."
What is plasma?
Plasma is a yellow liquid derived from blood. Most of it (92%) is water. The rest comprises several types of proteins including albumin (used to treat kidney diseases, cancer and diabetes), immunoglobulin (needed for the functioning of the body's immune system) and Factor VIII (an essential blood-clotting protein used to treat haemophilia).
The National Blood Centre welcomes donation of plasma alone. The process is similar to giving blood in that a unit of blood _ approximately 500cc _ must first be extracted. This is processed to separate it into plasma and red blood cells in a procedure controlled by computerised equipment. The plasma goes into a sealed bag and is stored at a suitably low temperature until needed for a patient. The red blood cells are promptly returned to the donor via a transfusion.
The whole exchange takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Plasma can be safely given every 14 days, much more frequently than a donation of whole blood.
Prerequisites for acceptance as a plasma donor
Being in excellent health; not suffering from any underlying medical conditions or serious infectious diseases.
Age: 18 to 60. A first-time plasma donor must not be more than 50 years old.
Weight: in excess of 50kg.
Not sexually promiscuous.
No previous record of drug abuse.
Being a frequent blood donor (those who give blood every three months or on a less regular basis).
The candidate's arteries must be clearly visible at the foldable joints on both his/her arms.
For more information, call 02-256-4300 or 02-263-9600 ext 1101, 1143 or 1144.
About the author
- Writer: Arusa Pisuthipan