Setting sights on eliminating treatable corneal blindness in the country by 2025, SightLife, a leading United States-based eye banking organisation, proposes to rope in 30 to 40 eye bank partners in the next few years in India by providing funding support, customised IT systems and training free of cost.

Although there are 10 million people with curable corneal blindness in the world and 90 per cent of them from developing countries, India has the largest need to expand capacities in conducting corneal transplants as 12 per cent of them were from this country, according to Tim Schottman, Senior Vice-President, Global Programs, SightLife.

Besides, India is also best placed to tackle the problem as a survey among corneal surgeons had revealed that they have the ability to double the number of surgeries being conducted at present.

Talking to The Hindu here on Monday, he said SightLife was currently having five partners, including Ramayamma International Eye Bank here and they were providing 25 per cent of support for all corneal transplants. Over the next year, 10 more eye banks would be added. By 2012-end, another 10 eye banks would be partnered.

While 15,000 corneal transplants a year were being conducted now, the aim was to increase them to 1,00,000 by 2020 in India. In the USA, the eye banks were self-sufficient because they charged a processing fee.

SightLife would help eye banks in India to become self-sustaining.

Calling for a “basic paradigm shift” among people, he said “Indians don't want to donate. It's very difficult for people to agree,” he added. In the USA, family consent on average was given by 65 per cent of those met by the counsellors, while it was 7 per cent in India.

But in the case of Ramayamma, it was 79 per cent, which showed that it could be replicated by providing professional training to counsellors.

Laws on the anvil

A law requiring hospitals to notify eye banks and organ transplant bodies in the event of a death in the United States had made a huge difference. He said that Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Dinesh Trivedi had told him that a similar legislation was on the anvil in India. Also another legislation allowing eye bank technicians to retrieve cornea was also in the pipeline.

While in many countries, technicians retrieve the cornea, only doctors were required to do it in India, he added.

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