30 percent growth in eye donations, but not enough

September 2nd, 2008 - 12:18 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 2 (IANS) Over 38,500 Indians who died last year helped blind people see through their eyes, representing a growth of nearly 30 percent from the previous fiscal year, but still woefully short for a country that has the world’s largest number of blind people - over 10 million.According to health ministry statistics, 38,596 corneas were collected during the financial year ending March 2008, a growth of nearly 30 percent from the previous year.

Among the states, Tamil Nadu with 8,502 cornea collections is number one is terms of eye donation, followed by Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

There was however not a single case of eye donation in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and most of the northeastern states.

“There is a huge gap between the need and availability of eyes. But the good part of it is cornea collection has registered a good growth,” said G. Ganesh, executive director of the Eye Banking Association of India.

“The major problem is lack of awareness. Look at the states of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh - the cornea collection is comparatively high,” Ganesh told IANS.

With over 10 million visually impaired people, India shoulders the world’s largest burden of blindness. Of the total number, at least 1.1 million people are suffering from corneal blindness.

And every year nearly 20,000 to 25,000 more people fall victim to corneal blindness due to vitamin A deficiency, injury and infection.

Only transplant of human cornea can restore the vision. Corneas can be taken from any dead person within a time window of six hours from death.

According to the World Health Organisation, corneal blindness is the world’s fourth leading cause of blindness, following cataract, glaucoma and age-related problems.

Ganesh said both the government and the NGOs must spread awareness among the people, counsel families in hospital who lost their relatives and convince them to donate eyes.

Nearly 75 percent of the eye collection is voluntary in India and the rest is by those who get counselling and information from doctors under the hospital cornea retrieval programme.

“Just 25 percent collection is through the hospital programme. This speaks of how we have failed to convince the people to donate,” Ganesh said.

The Eye Banking Association of India is a private federation of eye banks, which works in close association with the central government’s health ministry. Currently, there are 550 eye banks and collection centres.

Experts say that the eye banks need to get more resources in terms of both skilled human power and financial help.

“Eye banking procedures are quality sensitive that needs adhering to international medical standards - careful assessment of donor tissue, quality cornea processing and storing, documentation, efficient cornea distribution and an effective network,” said G.V. Rao, India Country Director, ORBIS International.

ORBIS is an international philanthropic organisation that helps India to improve quality eye banking management and create awareness about eye donation.

“Next time someone among one’s relatives passes away, make sure the eye goes to the eye bank and is not burnt down. Give others a chance to see the world,” Ganesh tol IANS.

(Prashant Nanda can be contacted prashant.n@ians.in)

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