Despite Central Government’s emphasis on improving eye-donations across the country—Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, some States of North-East and Island States— have had zero cornea collection in 2021-22 so far as per data procured through RTI. The data from 2016 onwards points to the fact that these States have also been consistently performing poorly. Topping the list for cornea collection is Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. As per National Blindness Survey (2015-2019), there are about 4.8 million people suffering from blindness and corneal blindness is the second most common type of blindness. Corneal blindness is 7.4% of total blindness in India.
The Health Ministry in its response to social activist Chandra Shekhar Gaur said that there continued to be States and Union Territories (UT) in India which had zero number of functional eye banks as on July 2021. While States/UT having a robust cornea donation and transplant system had a better network of eye banks., Uttar Pradesh (41), Karnataka (32), Gujarat (25), Andhra Pradesh (19) and Tamil Nadu (20) were examples of the same.
Cornea transplant stayed between 30,740 in (2016-17) to 24,783 (2021-22) while falling to a low of 11,859 during the COVID pandemic.
Senior Health Ministry officials admitted that the constraints in achieving the targets for donated eyes/cornea collection in the country included lack of awareness, myths surrounding eye donation and inadequate eye banking facilities.
As per the data reported by States/UTs under National Programme for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment (NPCB&VI), on an average 40-50% donated eyes/corneas were utilised for corneal transplantation annually. The donated eyes/corneas were assessed by eye surgeons prior to corneal transplantation for its suitability for optical keratoplasty. Not all the collected corneas were found suitable for corneal transplantation because of various medical reasons like poor quality of collected corneas due to age of the donor, pre-existing degeneration/diseases etc. Donated corneas, not found suitable for corneal transplantation, were utilised either for therapeutic keratoplasty or for study, training and research purposes.
The Ministry maintained that corrective steps had been initiated under NPCB & VI to improve the utilisation rate of donated corneas which included—recurring grant to eye banks for transportation, storage and collection of donated corneas and non-recurring grant to eye banks in public sector to meet the cost of ophthalmic equipments and instruments, providing free supply of short term and long term cornea preservation and storage medium to Government eye banks and giving in-service training to eye surgeons in eye banking and keratoplasty etc.
A corneal transplant is a surgical procedure that replaces a part of a person’s cornea with corneal tissue from a donor. Cornea donation is necessary for the preservation and restoration of sight— one cornea donor can restore sight to 2 people. Everyone is a universal donor for corneal tissue— the donor’s blood type does not have to match the blood type of the recipient. Age, eye colour and eyesight are not factors either. Aside from those suffering from infections or a few highly communicable diseases, most people are potential cornea donors.