Due to Covid-19 cases and the lockdown restrictions, the National Eye Bank (NEB) at AIIMS did not collect a single cornea between April and June, leading to an increase in waiting period for patients in need of keratoplasty or cornea transplantation. As a result, around 400 fewer patients underwent surgery during the three months as compared to the previous year.
The data was shared by the NEB on Tuesday as experts spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on corneal transplantation and eye donations. In 2019, the NEB collected 203, 138 and 145 corneas in April, May and June respectively. Experts said the lockdown measures implemented have adversely impacted both corneal tissue collection and keratoplasty surgeries.
“This year, the eye banking sector has been one of the worst casualties of Covid-19. After the temporary halt in corneal tissue retrieval during the lockdown, we resumed corneal tissue collection via the Hospital Cornea Retrieval Programme (HCRP) from July 1 this year. However, the waiting list of the patients awaiting keratoplasty surgery has further increased because of the pandemic,” said Dr J S Titiyal, head of Cornea Services at RP Centre and Chairman of the National Eye Bank (NEB).
Even tissue collection and keratoplasties saw a steep fall during the lockdown period. As a result, emergency keratoplasty in 15 patients was done with glycerin-preserved tissues.
Hundreds of patients requiring keratoplasty could not be operated upon, the doctors said. To meet the demand, the NEB has formed new guidelines for technicians, counselors and doctors. Education material was also distributed among the staff while explaining the importance of PPEs.
“The year 2020 should be remembered as the year when the people at the helm of affairs working at eye banks devised a game-changing strategy. The strategy should be developed in a way that the situation turns around in the next few years,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare.
However, with the easing of lockdown restrictions, the numbers are picking up, and 32 corneas were collected in the month of July.