37th National Eye Donation Fortnight 2022
Representational image

Blindness is one of the major public health problems in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization, corneal blindness is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness, after cataracts and glaucoma.

The National Eye Donation Fortnight is observed every year from August 25 to September 8. It is a campaign which aims to create mass public awareness about the importance of eye donation and to motivate people to pledge their eyes for donation after death.

Causes of Blindness in India:

  • Cataract (62.6%)
  • Refractive errors (19.7%)
  • Glaucoma (5.50%)
  • Corneal blindness (0.9%)
  • Posterior segment pathology (4.70%)
  • Surgical complications (1.2%)
  • Posterior capsular opacification (0.9%)
  • Others (5%)

In India, we have an estimated 4.6 million people with corneal blindness that is curable through corneal transplantation made possible by eye donation. The cornea is the clear surface at the front of the eye and is the main focusing element. When the cornea becomes cloudy from disease, injury, infection or any other cause, vision will be drastically reduced. A cornea transplant is a surgical procedure which replaces a disc-shaped segment of an impaired cornea with a healthy donor cornea. More than 90% of corneal transplantation is carried out successfully and helps restore vision in people with corneal blindness.

Causes of Corneal Blindness:

  • Post-surgical bullous keratopathy (46.2%)
  • Corneal dystrophy and degeneration (23.1%)
  • Trachoma (15.4%)
  • Injury to the Eye (28.6%)
  • Infections (keratitis/corneal ulcer) – childhood (36.7%) and adulthood (17.7%)
  • Chemical burns
  • Congenital disorders

Magnitude of problem:

  • Presently corneal blind persons– 1.1 million in India (EBAI) and more than 12.7 million in worldwide.
  • Approx. 11 lakh blind population of our country are waiting for corneal transplantation and approx. 25,000 new cases are being reported.
  • Mostly children and young adults.
  • As against an annual requirement of 75,000 to 1,00,000 corneas, only 22,000 corneas are donated in India at present.
  • Vast gap between demand and supply

Facts about eye donation

  • Eyes can be donated only after death.
  • Eye removal does not delay the funeral since the entire procedure takes 20-30 minutes only.
  • Eyes of the donated person can save the vision of 2 blind people.
  • Donated eyes are not bought or sold. Eye donation is never refused.
  • The identities of both the donor and the recipient are kept confidential.

Eye Donation after Death

  • Get vital death certificate as soon as possible.
  • Call the nearest eye bank for eye collection.
  • Switch off fan and keep the air-conditioning on.
  • Raise the head with a pillow.
  • Place a wet cotton cloth over the closed eyelids to keep the eyeballs moist.
  • The donor’s family receive a certificate of appreciation from the eye bank.
  • Eyes are evaluated at the eye bank and only the ones deemed suitable are used for transplant. Others are used for research and education.
  • Recipients are notified on a first come first serve basis from the registry.

Hospital Corneal Retrieval Programme (HCRP)

  • It is a revolutionary programme; initiated in 1990.
  • Concentrate on deaths that occur in hospitals.
  • Grief counsellor – Encourage motivate the family and relatives to donate eye.

Advantages

  • Availability of all records at the hospital.
  • Reduction in time interval between death and corneal excision.
  • Increased availability of stronger and younger corneal tissues resulting in more optical and successful grafts.

Who can donate eyes?

  • Eye donors could be of any age group, sex, religion or blood group.
  • Patients with high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Asthma patients
  • Anyone with cataract

Who cannot donate eyes?

  • Death from unknown cause.
  • AIDS
  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Rabies
  • Septicaemia, acute leukaemia
  • Meningitis or encephalitis
  • Retinoblastoma

How are the donated eyes used?

Traditionally each person who donates eyes can provide the gift of sight to two blind people. With the advent of component surgery of the cornea (in which layer of the cornea is transplanted for a specific indication) one eye has provided sight to five patients. When you donate a pair of eyes, you enable up to ten sight-saving operations. All the eyes donated to the eye bank are used, and a record is maintained. Eyes that are not medically suitable for corneal transplant may be used for medical research and education. These “unfit” donated eyes provide the doctors with critical and valuable insight into many conditions of the eyes and can help to find the cure for several diseases hitherto considered untreatable. Eye donation thus not only restores sight for the blind, it also makes research into new treatments possible.

What about religious beliefs?

No religion in the world condemns the art of giving. In fact, all religious leaders have unanimously decreed that charitable and voluntary giving to those in need is a great act of charity and kindness. All major religions either accept eye donation or allow the right of individual members to make their own decision.

Myths and beliefs about eye donation:

Myth: Donating eyes will disfigure the face of the donor, with holes in the eye socket causing face disfigurement.
Fact: Not at all. Retrieval of eyes does not cause any disfigurement of the face as a prosthetic is placed in the socket. And nowadays, only the cornea is removed and not the entire eyeball.

Myth: Donating eyes when I die in this life will mean I will be blind by birth in my next life.
Fact: Gifting sight to someone is an act of great virtue and charity, and this act can only be rewarded by a perfect vision in the next life if the law of karma is to be believed. This myth has no basis in religion or logic.

Myth: If I pledge my eyes, doctors will not try to save me when I am critically ill.
Fact: Completely false. Every doctor is committed to saving lives, on oath. They will never jeopardize your life or health to potentially help another patient.

Myth: Corneal transplantation is an experimental procedure, with poor success rates.
Fact: Corneal transplant is a routinely performed procedure the world over, and it has provided the gift of sight to millions of blind people around the globe. Of all the organ transplants, corneal transplants are known to be the most successful.

Myth: My donated eyes can be sold.
Fact: Eye donation is entirely voluntary. Selling or buying human eyes or any other organs is illegal and is a punishable offense under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA, 1994). Eye banks have to establish and document a system of distribution that is just, equitable and fair to all patients served by the eye bank. In fact, any cost involved with cornea retrieval is borne by the eye bank.

An earnest appeal to everyone:

Given the magnitude of corneal blindness in our country, we should come forward to pledge, and donate our eyes. We must overcome any superstitions, myths and wrong beliefs and try to make a positive impact on someone’s life. When we donate our eyes, we change someone’s life forever, for the better. The gift of sight is a gift which will never be forgotten and will earn for you eternal gratitude from someone who will see the world through your eyes, granting your eyes immortality. Biomedical engineers and clinician scientists all over the world are working diligently to develop artificial corneas to provide sight to those who await corneal transplantation. But until this becomes feasible, the only hope for these patients, who are deprived of the gift of sight, is your largesse and ability to give. If each of us will donate our eyes in the event of our death, the menace of corneal blindness can be removed from our country, and indeed the world.

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