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A person won't be born blind in next birth if he donates eyes: Dr. Anita Panda
Despite massive awareness campaigns, India has registered a dip of 3.5% in the number of corneal donations in the last one year, according to the latest government statistics. Many people still harbour myths about eye donation. Dr. Anita Panda, President of All India Ophthalmological Society busts all the myths associated with eye donation in an exclusive interview with citizen journalist Nitasha Panda.

What is eye donation?

Corneal blindness is more distinct in developing countries and mostly children are affected. It is a huge economical burden on the society. Of the 45 million total global blindness’, it affects three million people globally. Asia shares 65% of this and we in India have one fourth of the total load. Out of this, approximately 120 lakh are bilaterally and 80 lakh are unilaterally blind. About 103 lakh of these can be cured by keratoplasty but due to paucity of donor eyes a large number of patients are waiting for surgery. Here comes the role of ‘Eye Donation’. The literal meaning is donation of the deceased’s eyes after death for corneal grafting.

Tell us something about the donation programmes, you have been part of?

It is a deep concern that India is home to one- fourth of the world’s blind population. Can there be a noble cause than helping people regain their sight? Corneal blindness presents an enormous problem to both developing and developed countries in terms of human morbidity, economic loss and social burden as it is more frequent in children and young adults.

Enhancing procurement of donor eyes: In 1980, it was realized that registered list of donors was less than thousand all over the country despite the fact that the eye banking work was initiated in 1945. Further, the main source of donor eyes for corneal surgical work was Sri Lanka. Thus, it was felt that both pledging and actual eye collection needed enhancement.

Formation of a National Body: It was further felt that there was a great need of a nationalized body in India, which can tackle the country’s wide problem of corneal blindness. Thus, with the leadership of late Dr. R. P. Dhanda, seven of pioneers (which included five Ophthalmologists and two non

Ophthalmologists) in cornea and eye banking, gave the idea of establishing Eye Bank Association of India (EBAI) in September 1988 and the dream came true on 4th January 1989, when the EBAI was born. Five zones were formulated to share the country’s responsibility of corneal blindness and eye banking, and five leaders were earmarked, one for each zone, During that period it was also realized that the necessity of spreading the Eye Bank Messages one and all for which  a periodical “Punarjyoti” was published.

Involvement of dignitaries and celebrities: Realising the need for a pan India appeal, EBAI worked with various celebrities to create a forceful appeal. The celebs are popular, influential and loved by fans across the globe. And add to their off screen person, they also support noble cause and are philanthropists. Aishwarya Rai was the first celebrity to endorse eye donation and appeared in a short film which was created by Ogilvy & Mather. The short film generated tremendous interest and helped eye donation movement gain momentum.

What is to be done in next three years in Eye Banking?

From the data available, an annual performance of around 100,000 corneal transplants would have a salutary effect on the problem of reversible corneal blindness in India. Meeting this demand would require double that number of corneas to be harvested, i.e., 200,000 annually. To have two million eyes we have to pledge in million to reach the demand.

What are the formalities to be followed if a person wants to donate his/her eyes?

As per Organ Act 1994, the eyes can be removed from the deceased only after obtaining the written consent from the next of the kin or permission from the police in charge of the body irrespective of whether the deceased had expressed his or her desire to donate eyes after death.

Can the eyes be removed from a living person for donation?

No, they are to be removed only after the death.

Within how much time after death should the eyes be removed?

They can be removed six hours after the death of the donor.

Who is authorized to remove eyes from a donor’s body?

As per the Organ Act 1994, it has to be removed only by medical practitioner at least with MBBS Degree.

What exactly is transplanted from the donor eye?

Only the cornea is transplanted. All the myths, such as person will born as blind in next birth, face will be mutilated after eye removal are all wrong, which need to be removed from our society.

How long can the donor eyes be kept/ stored before transplantation?

Sooner the better. If in moist chamber, within 24 hrs. If in MK medium, within 72 hrs.

Facts about eye donation

- Eyes can be donated only after death

- Eyes must be removed within 4 - 6 hours after death

- Only a registered medical practitioner can remove eyes from a deceased.

- The eye bank team will remove the eyes from the home of the deceased or from a hospital

- 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

- Religions are for eye donation

- The identities of both the donor and the recipient are kept confidential.

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