India coronavirus: Tablighi Jamaat gives blood for plasma therapy

People who took part in a Tablighi Jamaat function earlier this month are checked by a health team before being taken by bus to a quarantine facility amid concerns of infection. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Muslim congregation has been traced to hundreds of positive cases

Members of an Indian Islamic organisation are volunteering to donate blood for plasma therapy after their congregation sparked dozens of Covid-19 clusters across the country.

More than 1,000 positive cases were linked to the Tablighi Jamaat event.

The incident caused massive outrage and led to reports of Islamophobia from across the country.

Plasma therapy involves transfusing antibody-rich blood into Covid-19 patients.

What happened after the Delhi event?

With the emergence of Covid-19 clusters across India directly linked to the event, there was massive outrage against the organisation and Muslims in general.

Police said that the Tablighi Jamaat had ignored two orders to stop its event - attended by hundreds - even after India went into lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.

They then filed manslaughter charges against the Jamaat chief, Mohammed Saad Kandhlawi.

There were reports of harassment of Muslims from many parts of the country.

Some local media ran campaigns, calling Tablighi Jamaat members "viruses" and "carriers of coronavirus". Hashtags, such as "Coronjihad" trended on social media with many people saying members had deliberately infected themselves to transmit others in crowded areas, even comparing them to suicide bombers.

The incessant attacks on the community led to sharp reactions in the United Arab Emirates last week, with many questioning India's secularism on social media platforms. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also appealed for unity tweeting to say the virus knew no religion.

How does plasma therapy work?

When a person has Covid-19, their immune system responds by creating antibodies, which attack the virus.

Over time these build up and can be found in the plasma, the liquid portion of the blood.

However, it is still in a trial stage in many countries including India, which is testing it in a few states before approving it for wider use.

Several hospitals have said it has yielded "encouraging" results, with some severely ill patients recovering after being administered plasma therapy.

Image copyright Getty Images

But scientists caution that it won't be a "magic bullet".

"At the moment, we give plasma therapy only to those critically ill corona patients who are not able to produce antibodies against the virus in their bodies because they have underlying conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension," said Dr Tauseef Khan, who works in the department of infectious diseases in a government hospital in in the northern city of Lucknow.

What do Tablighi members say about volunteering?

Farooq Basa, from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, was among the first 10 Jamaat volunteers who donated plasma on Sunday, the first day of the campaign.

"The media had demonised us after some of us had tested positive for the virus. But by the grace of Allah this will help improve our image," he told the BBC.

Anas Sayed, who also donated blood on Sunday said: "We had a difficult few weeks when everyone went after us and held us responsible for the spread of the virus. When the Maulana made the appeal we decided to volunteer."

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

Dr Shoaib Ali, who has been at the forefront of the volunteering campaign, said he believed 300-400 recovered Jamaat members would be donating plasma over the next several days in Delhi alone.

Dr Ali added that the Jamaat donors were only doing their duty as citizens and rejected the claim it was an exercise in damage control.

"These people would have come forward to donate anyway as they are god fearing and are taught the spirit of sacrifice," he said.

Meanwhile there have been apprehensions that Hindus would reject the plasma donated by the Tablighis, prompting Delhi Chief Minister Aravind Kejriwal to emphasise that "when god created earth, he just created human beings. Every human has two eyes, one body, their blood is red, and plasma."

It is unclear if and how many people have been treated with plasma therapy since the donation drive began.

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