Pledges galore, yet there is dearth of eye donations

January 19th, 2009 - 11:19 am ICT by IANS  

Aishwarya RaiNew Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) Remember the mesmerizing gaze of Aishwarya Rai’s blue-grey eyes as she pledged to donate them in a public service advertisement on national television? Since this campaign in the 1990s there has been a surge in pledges, but donations are just not enough.As many as two million people in India are corneally blind. Every year, 30,000 more are added to this figure.

The cornea is the clear surface of the eye that allows light to enter the eye. Vision could be reduced or lost if the cornea becomes ‘cloudy’ or scarred. This condition is known as corneal blindness. The sight of the corneally blind can be restored through corneal transplantation.

Half of the people suffering from this can get their sight restored through corneal graft surgery. Against the annual demand for 100,000 corneas, only 16,000 are available.

“In our country - enough people pledge their eyes, but I am sorry to say donations are not enough,” S.C. Gupta, a leading ophthalmologist, told IANS.

The only way to obtain the cornea is through donation.

“Many pledge their eyes, but after death their families are reluctant in their moment of grief. They do not permit doctors to remove the eyes from the dead. That is why grief counsellors are so important. They are trained to deal with and persuade the families of those who have pledged their eyes to let it happen,” said Gupta, who is medical director of the Venu Eye Institute and Research Centre in south Delhi.

Practically anyone can pledge to be an eye donor. Even poor eyesight and age don’t rule out donors.

However, it requires relatives and friends to ensure that this happens soon after death, usually within six hours.

Next-of-kin can also consent to a donation if the deceased hasn’t signed a pledge form.

Several experts in the field had gathered on the occasion of Venu’s foundation day celebrated here Sunday.

Many of them felt that among other challenges to deal with donor transplants, the country also faces shortage of trained personnel and has poor collection methods.

“Eye banking procedures are quality sensitive, and need to adhere to international medical standards - careful assessment of donor tissue, quality cornea processing and storing, documentation, efficient cornea distribution and an effective network. Our country has a long way to go,” said G.V. Rao, director Orbis India, a non profit global development organization.

“In our country there is a need not only for awareness but also to increase manifold the number of healthcare institutes that people can access. China has an agenda focused on healthcare and nutrition. They have managed to train millions and millions of dedicated cadre. We too are equally capable - Venu is doing well but there need for many more such institutes and programmes - and fast,” said Ashok Parthasarathi, who was also present.

Parthasarthi is former science and technology adviser to the late prime minister Indira Gandhi and former secretary to a number of scientific departments of the Indian government.

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