To promote eye donation and bridge the huge gap between demand and supply of corneas, the Health Department is set to start eye collection centres in district hospitals soon.
Increasing the number of eye donations is crucial as corneal blindness can be treated only through transplantation from eye donations as there is no substitute for human tissue.
Although, an average of 57,000 eyes are collected across India annually, there are approximately 15 lakh corneal blind people who are in need of transplant in the country. Moreover, every year, nearly 20,000 people are detected with corneal blindness, according to the National Programme for Control of Blindness and Visual Impairment.
In 2018–19, of the 5,561 eyes collected in Karnataka, more than 4,500 were from Bengaluru alone. Although people from rural areas are pledging eyes, lack of collection centres in district and taluk hospitals has hit donations.
“Although the plan is to start eye collection centres in all government hospitals, we initially plan to start with district hospitals. While collection centres have already started functioning in a few places, all districts will be covered in a phased manner,” State Health Director Om Prakash Patil told The Hindu .
“Our aim is to promote eye donation by improving coordination between private hospitals and government hospitals. The collection centres in the district hospitals will be linked to the nearest eye bank,” he said, and added that there were 37 eye banks in the State, including eight run by the government.
A senior official in the department’s Ophthalmology division said the move would also help in getting good quality corneas. “As of now, nearly half of the collected corneas are not utilised mainly because of infections in the donor or because there is a delay in collecting. Eyes should be collected within six hours after death,” the official said.
Highlighting the gap between the demand and supply, K. Bhujang Shetty, chairman and managing director of Narayana Nethralaya, said in Bengaluru alone, there were close to 400 deaths a day but out of these less than eight eyes were being collected. “It is deeply saddening to see this huge gap. Corneal blindness can be treated only through transplantation from eye donations since there is no substitute for human tissue,” said Dr Shetty, who heads Dr. Rajkumar Eye Bank, one of the first started in 1993.