First, the good news: Tamil Nadu has been exceeding its targets in eye donations for the last few years. Now, the bad news: nearly half the donated eyes are unfit for transplantation.
Of the 10,076 eyes harvested in 2012-13, only 5,246 were used. The rest were unfit — some of them had been damaged due to corneal injuries suffered by the donor, while in other cases, the donor suffered eye infections which rendered them unusable.
This was also the case in 2011-2012 when only 5,174 of 8,796 donated eyes were used. Similarly, in 2010-2011 only 6,142 of the 11,805 harvested eyes were used, according to the Tamil Nadu State Blindness Control Society.
Eyes that are not used for transplants are used for medical research, an official of the society said.
When an eye is donated, not all parts are used during a transplant. The crucial segment of the eye, is the cornea. Therefore, the key to a successful eye donation is the quality of the cornea.
While several campaigns have increased awareness on the need to donate eyes, and this has led to many donors coming forward, in several cases, good intentions do not lead to successful results.
Doctors say those who intend to donate their eyes should first ensure that the eyes are fit for transplant. If this is done, time and energy need not be wasted in harvesting eyes that are bound to go waste.
“Donors might have died due to jaundice, malaria and septicaemia and this could have caused infections in the eyes. Donated eyes also cannot be used in cases of corneal injuries, vitamin deficiencies and if cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord. The quality of the eyes also depends on the nature of recovery after eye surgery,” said S.V.G. Subramanian, deputy manager, Eye Bank, Sankara Nethralaya.
“When a family is prepared to donate the eyes of a deceased member, we cannot reject their offer on the basis of whether the eyes are suitable or not, as their intention is noble,” a government ophthalmologist said.
V. Padma, in-charge of Lions Eye Bank, Chennai said they often received good corneas from government hospitals in the city including from patients who die of burns at Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital.
Meanwhile, The State’s performance in eye donations over the last five years has been steady — cities such as Coimbatore and Madurai have been also been doing well in eye donations and harvesting.
There are nine eye banks in the government sector and 14 eyes banks run by non-governmental organisations across the State.