By Marine Strauss and Francois Lenoir
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian clinical studies to study the effectiveness of blood plasma for people recovering from COVID-19 are at risk of being suspended because of low plasma stocks, doctors said, prompting a call for more blood donors to come forward.
The Belgian Red Cross is supplying plasma to two hospitals, University Hospital Leuven and CHU of Liege, which are leading two clinical studies in the country to see how plasma containing antibodies from COVID-19 survivors can help infected people.
"There are a lot of patients in hospitals with COVID-19 and who need it," Esther Neijens, a doctor from the Red Cross, told Reuters.
"We really hope there will be enough plasma donors, who had COVID at some point, to continue the clinical studies and finish them, to have conclusions to know if this plasma is indeed effective in the context of COVID-19," she said.
The nation of 11 million people now suffers the highest rate of coronavirus infections per 100,000 citizens in Europe. It had 1,448 new infections per 100,000 residents over the past week, data from the Sciensano health institute showed on Wednesday.
The number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) is doubling every eight days - to 911 as of Tuesday - with 5,554 people in hospitals, which risk running out of beds.
Student Lili Deneve is one survivor willing to donate.
"I am giving my blood for COVID-19 patients," the 21-year-old, who was infected with COVID-19 at the end of August, told Reuters while giving her plasma for the second time.
"I got infected with COVID-19 because of somebody positive in my family, I had symptoms for a week, I was very tired ... I lost taste and smell," she said.
Doctors say trials are needed as there remains a lack of evidence about how effective plasma can be. Results from an Indian study found that the plasma did not help hospitalised patients fight off the infection, and failed to reduce death rates or halt progression to severe disease.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, Francois Lenoir, editing by Robin Emmott and Giles Elgood)