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There are a few hundreds of ‘blessed’ people in Africa: men, women and children that survived Ebola. Nobody quite yet knows how they defeated the virus, but now the minority that managed to get well are sought after because they are immune carriers of antibodies.

Special centers are being set up in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to safely draw the blood of Ebola survivors. Not only to study it: the transfusions seem to be producing outstanding, positive effects in the bodies of the sick.

For example, the magical plasma was administered to the American national Kent Brantly. The doctor working for the NGO Samaritan’s Purse was officially the first person to defeat the virus with experimental treatments, and has subsequently donated his blood to his colleague Rick Sacra, cameraman Ashoka Mukpo and nurse Nina Pham: they all survived. The Spanish national Teresa Romero was also declared healed after she received a blood transfusion.

A European consortium, led by the Belgian Institute of Tropical Medicine, formed a research group aimed at better understanding the effects and the dynamics of plasma injections. Research studies will begin shortly in Guinea. In the meantime, however, the news of people surviving the virus after having received blood from survivors started circulating in Africa. And some prowlers have sniffed out good business, in the midst of the complete desperation that abounds in the areas hit by the epidemic. WikiLao’s sources report of a plasma black market, with blood drawings and transfusions being carried out without any precautionary or basic safety measures. Ruthless middle-men have begun to pop up. Without appropriate medical tests, there is even a risk that diseases that are already endemic in Africa, such as AIDS, will spread further.

There are also reports that blood has been drawn from survivors repeatedly. The fact is that, according to the Red Cross, an individual can only donate plasma every 28 days, but there “appear to be less than 1000” survivors considered suitable for their blood to be drawn, “according to a purely statistical screening.”

The life-saving plasma is therefore extremely rare. Even if every survivor donated their plasma once a month, there would not be enough to save those infected with the virus. Those who can try to get a hold of it by different means. After the first cases in September, “the illegal trade” has become “a growing phenomenon.” It is believed that it will continue to grow, at least until a vaccine approved by the scientific community and medical authorities isn’t ready to be distributed.

October 29, 2014