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National Eye Donation Fortnight: Experts weigh in on eye donation in India

At least 15 lakh people are currently waiting for corneal transplants in India © Shutterstock

Eye specialists say that there needs to be more awareness about eye donation in the country to ensure that the supply of corneas can reduce blindness cases in India.

Did you know that there are as many as 80 lakh blind people in India and that less than 15,000 eyeballs or corneas are donated in a year in the entire country? Dr Raghu Nagaraju Senior Consultant, Cornea & Refractive Surgery, Dr Agarwal s Eye Hospital, Bengaluru, said at an event to mark National Eye Donation Fortnight, that eye donation is popular even in countries like Sri Lanka which harvests more cornea than it needs and sends the surplus to other nations. In India, however, it is a different story, with supply not able to meet even 10% of the demand. Many myths continue to persist, like, dead people whose eyes have been harvested will not be able to attain salvation. This is sad because at least 15 lakh people are currently waiting for corneal transplants in India, but only about 7,000 to 8,000 transplants take place every year. We need a big push to increase the number of eye donations in India.

Ophthalmologist Dr Amod Nayak opined that the Indian government currently gives more importance to promoting cataract surgery than corneal transplants. Even though funds are allotted for corneal blindness in Government of India s National Programme for Control of Blindness, the utilization of funds and execution of the project are not satisfactory. Cornea harvesting from tier 2 and 3 cities in Karnataka and rural areas is very less compared to big cities like Bengaluru and Mysuru because of lack of eye bank units. To tackle the problem of blindness, all government-run district hospitals must have a corneal specialized surgeon. More ophthalmologists are needed in tier 2 and 3 cities. Additionally, the infrastructure required for corneal transplantation must be created in government-run medical colleges.

The main causes of blindness include cataract, refractive error, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and corneal blindness (opacity of the cornea which leads to blurring). Corneal blindness is the 4th leading cause of blindness globally. Corneal transplants are an effective solution to restore eyesight in such cases. Archana S- Senior Consultant, cataract, Cornea & Refractive Surgery said, Cornea has to be collected at the right time, stored promptly and transplanted as soon as possible. The less time between harvesting the tissue and the transplant, the better the outcome. We need to increase the number of eye banks to reduce transportation duration. Even after harvesting, however, only about half of the number of donated corneas get used for transplants. The rest are used for medical research and academic purposes.

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