eye donationMedical practice

Eye donations in India : Fewer and far apart.

In spite of the fact that more than a  lac people are blind in our country and need corneal transplants , the cornea (eye) donations are very low in India. why ? 

If the statistics of   National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) are to be believed, currently, India is home to around 120,000 corneal blind persons. It also says that we are adding 25,000-30,000 persons with  corneal blindness cases every year to this list. But that should not be an issue as we can easily help them by donating a cornea to them. After all, we all have a pair of it, which will anyway be useless for us once we are gone.

Now the question is, if it is that simple than why people in India do not donate their corneas.

Lack of awareness 

Large count of those who cannot see is a matter of concern.  So also the fact that rest of us who can actually see, are not aware of this fact. And those of us, who do know, do not how to proceed.

Cultural and spiritual notions 

In certain communities, people have emotional attachment for a body organ, which is why they are reluctant to donate it. The fact that eye is the only external organ that is donated, is also reason people find it hard to decide in favour of its donation.  In Britain, the person registering for the organ donation gives consent for all their organs and tissues for transplantation. Around 50% registered users, withhold their consent for eyes, followed by 40% for heart.

Myths and misconception

Disfigurement of corpse: it stems from the lack of the awareness of the cornea harvesting methods among the people. It is a misconception that whole of the eye will be removed which will leave the corpse disfigured for mourners to witness. Actually the process involves retrieval of the cornea only, and the contour of the lids after closure is very much maintained. Moreover it takes only few minutes so do not delay the funeral as well.

Lack of nationwide donor registration

Donors pledging for donation of the eyes contribute in spreading the concept of eye donation in the community. The conscious and informed decision taken by a living person makes it less difficult for relatives and friend to decide and consent for donating the eyes of the that deceased family member in the moment of immense tragedy, just after his/her death. It is seen that only half of families   approached for donation agree to donate a relative’s organs if they are unaware of their relative’s decision to be a donor.

National Organ & Tissue Transplant Organisation recently constituted to facilitate organ donation and transplantation in India. We are yet to have a centralized organ donor registry which can facilitate this work. The centralized donor registration agency in US is donate life america. It is a non-profit organization, is engaged in awareness and fund raising.  Around 56% of US citizens are registered with it. In India we have few NGO’s which are working in this field but their area of work is still limited.  We need more common organ donation  campaigns which target multiple organs rather than eyes only.

Lack of transplantation facilities.

In year 2011 approximately 150000, corneal transplants were done worldwide, out of which majority were done in US and Europe. Though we have largest number to people in need of this service, we could only do approximately 17,000 corneal transplants. This is primarily attributed to underdeveloped eye banking services. Though we have 700 registered eye banks, only an average of 25 corneas are transplanted by each per year. One of the media report said that out of 100 corneas retrieved from donor, only 50 % could actually be transplanted in a recipients.

Whatever the circumstances, we should all strive to increase the corneal donations in our country. As correctly said by someone,

 “It is easy not to donate; it is hard to be blind.”

Please share your comments, what more can be done about this.

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