Convalescent Plasma: Shincheonji Steps Up to the Plate

On August 23rd, United States President Donald Trump announced an emergency authorization for the use of convalescent plasma in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The scientific community has been in a sharp debate on this, with many saying that more research is needed to prove its safety and effectiveness. In either case, much more plasma needs to be collected in order to meet the demands for research and treatment purposes.

6,000 miles away in the Republic of South Korea, over 1600 members of the Shincheonji church of Jesus received public acknowledgement for their donation of convalescent plasma. The Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention penned a letter thanking the church and its members for their timely and important contributions. In fact, they donated without taking the compensation of 300,000 won, or $252.

This donation comes at a time when there is a severe shortage of plasma donations around the world. The shortage can be attributed to a few factors. First, donors are unwilling to travel to donate blood. Secondly, schools and businesses have remained closed. These locations have generally served the prime locations for donation drives. The combination of both factors have caused donations to drop drastically.

Which makes Shincheonji’s donation all the more noteworthy.

Shincheonji is a minority religious organization in South Korea with over 200,000 members. Established in 1984 by Lee Man Hee, a Korean War veteran and a peace activist, it has seen a rapid rise in membership over the years. Shincheonji now has an international presence in countries all around the world. One of its members, codenamed Patient 31, contracted the virus back in February. Over the course of a few weeks, thousands of members of the church in the city of Daegu contracted the virus, causing the country to take more drastic measures in quarantining and contact tracing.

On March 2, Chairman Lee Man Hee issued a public apology to the public for the spread of the virus. He issued a call to work together to stop the virus, and he held true to his word with the plasma donations in July, August, and September.

The recovered patients are able to contribute by donating the plasma in their blood that contains the precious antibodies that fight against the coronavirus. Regarding the donations, the church said that it was “our way of giving back part of what we have received from the country, from free testing to free treatment.”

Convalescent plasma is now a centerstage in the fight against COVID-19. As hopes for vaccine development are now projected to be the end of 2020 at best, other treatments have been heavily sought after. Convalescent plasma is a portion of the blood from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus. The plasma contains antibodies that can help fight against the virus.

As plasma will continue to be in heavy demand, the Shincheonji church is a strong example of how an organization that was a victim of the outbreak can make the best of a bad situation. During this time when there are more bad situations than good, Shincheonji’s contributions are a welcome source of positive and hopeful news.