Blindness is a major cause of concern around the world today. In India, an estimated 20 lakh people suffer from blindness caused by damages to the cornea, the clear transparent outer layer of the eye. More than a quarter of the cases of corneal blindness can be resolved if transplantations are done without delay. Just like any other body organ, the cornea of the eye can also be donated after death. “With tens of thousands of corneal blindness cases being added every year to the existing burden, the annual demand for corneal transplantations is on the rise and to meet this dearth, the public needs to be educated on eye donation. On this National Eye Donation Fortnight let us highlight the importance of pledging our eyes,” says, Dr. Archana S, Regional Head- Clinical Services, Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospital, Karnataka.
He further adds that Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital offers the unique PDEK procedure where a single donated eye can render vision to two or more people.
Who can donate eyes?
An eye donor can belong to any sex or age. However, there are a few diseases which can restrict the donation of the eyes like AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, Rabies, Septicaemia, Acute leukemia (Blood cancer), Tetanus, Cholera, and infectious diseases like Meningitis and Encephalitis.
Dr. Archana S mentions a few points for public awareness in relation to eye donation.
- Eyes can be donated only after death.
- Eyes must be removed within 4 – 6 hours after death.
- Eyes can be removed by a registered medical practitioner only.
- The eye bank team will visit the home of the deceased or the hospital to remove the eyes.
- Eye removal does not delay the funeral since the entire procedure takes 20-30 minutes only.
- A small quantity of blood will be drawn to rule out communicable diseases.
- Eye retrieval does not cause disfigurement.
- The identities of both the donor and the recipient are kept confidential.
- In relation to eye pledge and eye collection procedures, the eye donation of the deceased has to be authorized by the next of kin even if the deceased has pledged his or her eyes.
- Use of spectacles for short sightedness, long sightedness or astigmatism or even those operated for cataract is also not a contraindication.
Enucleation of the Eyes
Eyes are to be enucleated preferably within six to eight hours of death. After enucleation the eyes are sent to eye banks for evaluation and further distribution. The eyes are evaluated by trained technicians as per the international standards. The deserving blind patients are called in accordance with the waiting list. Even emergency cases are dealt with in conformity with the guidelines prescribed.
Importance of Eye Donation
On the importance of eye donation, Dr. Archana S says, “Due to the little or no awareness, social or religious reservations, and various other reasons eye donation is yet to get its due importance in our country. Various misunderstandings and misbeliefs act as a roadblock for this noble deed.”
She further adds, “Today the number of eye donations made is only about 50,000 per year in India – in other words, eyes are collected only from less than 0.5% of about 1 crore people who die in the country in a year. Therefore, awareness must be created about eye donation. Also, infrastructure such as eye banks and research centers must be increased to facilitate more eye donations.” At times when eye donations cannot be used for transplantation, they are forwarded for research and education. Whole eye research has led to advancements in the understanding of the cause and effects of conditions such as glaucoma, retinal disease, eye complications of diabetes and other sight disorders.