Cornea donation figure is witnessing a slow increase even as requirement for keratoplasty, or cornea transplantation, is escalating. From 2013-14 till November this year, the rate of keratoplasty surgeries to utilise eye donation has risen from 33.6 to 47.8 per cent. Ophthalmologists claim that the demand is far greater than the supply of donated eyes.
In 2013-14, 7,653 eye balls, or cornea, had been donated. Of these, 2,577 were used for cornea transplantation for the visually impaired. In 2017-18 (till November), 4,795 eye balls have been donated of which 2,296 cornea transplants have been conducted.
“The remaining cornea is used for therapeutic keratoplasty in which if a patient suffers infection or tear in the cornea and suffers from vision problems, a donated cornea is transplanted. We also need cornea for research and academic purposes,” said Dr T P Lahane, the deputy director at the Directorate of Medical Education and Research.
In J J Hospital, state government’s largest hospital in Maharashtra, in a year, 350 cornea transplants are carried out for the visually impaired and 400 more therapeutic keratoplasty procedures are conducted for those who suffer infection, tear or injury in eye because of road accidents.
On Thursday, a man suffering from ulcer was admitted to the hospital. “He is awaiting eye donation. The problem is, several communities still do not donate eyes. We see donation happening from a lot of older deceased people. The donation, in cases of unfortunate deaths of the younger population, is still less,” said Dr Ragini Parekh, the head of ophthalmology at J J Hospital.
Data from the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) indicated that the number of keratoplasty surgeries have gradually increased, indicating higher utilisation of cornea. In 2014-15, 8,286 eye balls had been donated of which 31 per cent (2,600) were utilised for cornea transplantation. In 2016-17, however, the donations dropped to 7,514 of which 2,989 (39.7 per cent) were used for cornea transplants.
In 2017-18 until November, of 4,795 cornea donated, 47.8 per cent (2,296) have already been used for transplantation.
State government officials said training of ophthalmologists is regularly carried on in the process of harvesting cornea. “We are also in the process of increasing the number of eye banks to reduce transportation duration,” said Dr Arun Virdhe, who heads the NPCB.
An eye donation must take place within six hours of death of a person. The process to harvest eyes takes 20-30 minutes. “The cornea is then preserved in media and taken to an eye bank where viability of cornea is seen. Not every donated cornea can be used for keratoplasty,” Virdhe said.
Suchitra Waithi, from the eye Bank of KBH Bachooali Hospital in Parel, said: “Sometimes, there is a deep fold in cornea and it cannot be used or the cell count is insufficient. Sometimes, cornea of old people cannot be used for young visually impaired patients.” In such situations, the cornea is utilised for research purposes. Waithi added that cornea donation is higher in urban centres and a similar push in rural regions is now required.