'State's target for eye donations below par'

Health department officials and ophthalmologists in Bengaluru estimate that one lakh people with visual impairment await a transplant, at any given point in time, across the state.

Even as thousands await corneal transplants, the state has set a target of a tad over 5,000 a year and claims to have met the collection completely over the years.

Health department officials and ophthalmologists in
Bengaluru estimate that one lakh people with visual impairment await a transplant, at any given point in time, across the state.

The Health and Family Welfare department, in its annual report, has set a goal which is not even the tip of the iceberg, believe experts. In the year 2017-18, 5,600 was the target for the number of eyeballs to be collected, and 5,914 were collected. The department mentions in the report that the target has been met with. Similarly, in 2018-19, about 5,561 donations have been made.

“We are aware that these numbers are minimal. We do not have accurate data on the number of people waiting for transplant. However, we know that about a lakh are on the waiting list most of the time for a cornea,” said a source from the Health and Family Welfare department.

According to the source, corneal blindness is the second largest cause for blindness in the state.

Dr Bhujang Shetty, Chairman, Narayana Nethralaya, told DH, “Out of the 5,000 donations, only about 3,000 could be used for transplants. The rest might only be used for research purpose,” he said.

Dr Shetty added that 60% of those on the waiting list for a transplant are children. “At any point in time, 50 lakh people in the country await a corneal transplant. However, only 60,000 donations are made in a year.”

Transplants are better if done early, he said explaining, “It is good to do it when they are young. People think otherwise. But we will want the eye to grow functionally also.”

Meanwhile, Dr Arun Samprathi, founder, Samprathi Eye Hospital, said that the waiting period varies anywhere between three to six months. “When we are doing a transplant for children, we look at corneas from the young as the others might not sustain long,” he added.

Among the young, it is mostly injuries to the eye due to crackers, using scissors, pencil and blades while it could also be a result of infections or corneal ulcer, he explained.

Dr Shetty and Dr Samprathi said that 5,600 was a minimal number and that the state has to have better targets. 

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