Donate eyes, help someone see the world

The number of people awaiting corneal transplant is outnumbering the available donors.

Blindness is a worldwide problem. In India, we have about 4.6 million people with corneal blindness and this is expected to increase to 10 million by 2020. The number of people awaiting corneal transplant is outnumbering the available donors. The annual requirement is about 75,000 to 1 lakh corneas but only 22,000 corneas are donated in India at present. There is further addition of 40,000 to 50,000 corneal blind people every year. The act of donating one’s eyes after his/her death is called Eye donation. The eyes after death can be recovered into a priceless gift of vision for millions of people who need them. However, only corneal blinds can be benefited and blindness due to other causes such as nerve damage, etc. cannot be corrected through this procedure.

Who can donate eyes?

Eyes can be donated only after death. Anyone above the age of one year can donate irrespective of sex/ blood group/religion. People who have refractive error such as short sightedness, long sightedness or astigmatism or even those operated for cataract can donate.Patients with systemic diseases such as diabetics, hypertension, asthma are suitablefor eye donation.Patients with medical conditions such as AIDS, Hepatitis B or C, Rabies, Septicaemia, Cholera, Meningitis or Encephalitis are not appropriate for eye donation.

Following precautions are to be taken after death to preserve the eyes:

Close the eyes of the dead and place moist cotton over them

Fans should be switched off

Keep a polythene cover with few ice cubes on forehead

4. Inform the nearest eye bank immediately

Eyes should be removed within 4-6 hours of death. The eye bank team will remove the eyes at home or at the hospital.Eye removal takes only 10 to 15 minutes. Only the transparent portion of the eye called cornea is taken out and not the entire eyeball and thus does not cause facial disfigurement. To rule out any communicable diseases, a small quantity of blood will be drawn. Confidentiality is maintained throughout the process for both the entities- donor and recipient.

The eyes must be used for corneal transplantation within 72 hours. One pair of eyes gives vision to 2 corneal blind people. Those eyes which are not suitable for transplant may be used for medical research and education. It takes a huge heart to gift someone the joy of sight, but at times certain myths and misconceptions stop us from doing it.

Dispelling the myths

Eye donation is an added expense to the donor’s family: It is charitable and done free of cost.

Blind people cannot donate their eyes: The cause of blindness does not always reside in the cornea. If the blindness is due to other pathology and if cornea is healthy, eyes can be donated.

Corneal transplantation is an experimental procedure: It is a routinely performed procedure with a high success rate.

Donating eyes for research purpose doesn’t restore sight to any: It can help thousands of people regain their sight as it can help in detecting the cause and effect of various conditions which in turn can help in the discovery of new treatments.

If I donate my eyes it will be sold to the person who needs the transplant: “Transplant of Human Organs Act”prohibits any commercial dealing of organs. Selling / buying human eyes is illegal and is a punishable offense.

If someone hasn’t pledged before death, then they cannot donate their eyes: After death the family members can volunteer for eye donation. However, even in those who have pledged, the consent of the family members is a must.

Do not hesitate to donate your eyes. There is nothing nobler than letting someone see the world. Pledge your eyes today. Motivate friends and family to donate their eyes.

(The writer is a Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital Bengaluru)

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