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 the 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 then why people in India do not donate their corneas.
Lack of awareness
A large count of those who cannot see is a matter of concern. So also the fact that the rest of us who can actually see, are not aware of this fact. And those of us, who do know, do not know how to proceed.
Cultural and spiritual notions
In certain communities, people have an emotional attachment for a body organ, which is why they are reluctant to donate it. The fact that the eye is the only external organ that is donated, is also the reason people find it hard to decide in favor of its donation. In Britain, the person registering for organ donation gives consent for all their organs and tissues for transplantation. Around 50% of registered users, withhold their consent for eyes, followed by 40% for the heart.
Myths and misconception
Disfigurement of corpses: it stems from the lack of awareness of the cornea harvesting methods among the people. It is a misconception that the 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 a few minutes so do not delay the funeral as well.
Lack of nationwide donor registration
Donors pledging for a donation of the eyes contribute to 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 friends to decide and consent for donating the eyes of 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 that can facilitate this work. The centralized donor registration agency in the US is to donate life America. It is a non-profit organization, is engaged in awareness and fundraising. Around 56% of US citizens are registered with it. In India we have few NGOs 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 2011 approximately 150000, corneal transplants were done worldwide, out of which the majority were done in the US and Europe. Though we have the largest number of 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 is transplanted by each per year. One of the media reports said that out of 100 corneas retrieved from donors, only 50 % could actually be transplanted in a recipient.
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.