As of today India has over 12.5 million visually impaired people, which constitutes for approximately 20% of the worlds total. About 2.5 to 3 million of them are disabled due to defective cornea, who can get sight by corneal grafting which in turn, is only possible through eye donation.
Cornea is a transparent protective layer covering the front part of the eye. In some cases due to congenital defects, injury or infection, cornea becomes opaque; thus blocking light rays and rendering a person visually impaired. Such individuals can have their eye sight restored by a simple surgery called corneal grafting. However, those who are disabled due to other reasons can not be treated by the method of corneal grafting.
Unfortunately in India, where about 8 million die every year, only about 30,000 corneas are harvested for grafting. On the other side, we import a large number of corneas (around 10,000) from a very small country like Sri Lanka where eye donation is considered a sacred act. Is it not very disgraceful?
To remove the huge disparity between requirement and availability of eye balls, India needs a vigorous, well sustained 'EYE DONATION' movement.
A few vital points about eye donation are:
Ø Practically everyone from a few days old baby to even a 100-year-old senior citizen is eligible. Age, Sex, Blood Group, Caste, Creed, religion do not matter.
Ø Those who suffer from hypertension, diabetes, wear glasses or have undergone cataract operations too can donate eyes.
Ø Eyes can be pledged during ones life time but can be donated only after death. Even visually disabled persons can pledge their eyes provided disability is due to other factors but cornea is in good condition.
Ø Cornea of those who die of AIDS, Rabies, Jaundice, STD, Cancer (if cornea is affected by it) are not used for grafting but such corneas are useful for research purposes. It is best left to the descretion of the doctor whether to accept such corneas or not.
Ø In case of accidental death, if the cornea is intact, eye donation can take place with the permission of the police officer concerned.
Ø Cornea should be removed from the dead body as early as possible but in any case it shall not go beyond 6 hours.
Ø Expressing desire for eye donation in ones 'WILL' is of no use as the 'WILL' document may be opened after a few days after the demise.
Ø Eyes can be pledged by filling a pledge card and sending it to an eye bank. Eye bank on receipt of pledge card issues a donor's card which should always be carried on person.
Ø Consent and cooperation of close relatives is very much essential. If one has pledged eyes but next of kin is unwilling, the eyes cannot be donated. On the other hand, eye donation is very much possible if the next of kin permits it in spite of eyes not having been formally pledged.
Ø Since the cooperation of relatives matters a lot, entire family should sit together, discuss the issue, and make the pledge thus motivating one another.
Ø In case of death in the family, relatives of the deceased should immediately call the nearest eye bank and not necessarily the same eye bank that has issued the donors card.
Ø Specialists deputed by the eye bank remove the corneas and fill the socket with cotton or artificial eyes. The process called 'Enucleation' takes not more than 30 minutes. It is a myth that the face is disfigured after enucleation.On removal, corneas are taken to the eye hospital and after processing, are grafted to two to six needy persons, as per the waiting list.
Following precautions, if taken are very useful in preserving the cornea longer.
Raising the head about 6 inclnes higher by placing a pillow beneath it
Closing eye lids and covering them with wet cloth or ice cubes.
Putting eye drops in the eyes.
Switching off fans but switching on AC (if available)
Death certificate issued by family physician should be kept ready. Physician shall be requested to take a blood sample of 10cc.
Charity is considered a very sacred act in Indian culture. Eye donation, especially is quite unique since one loses nothing except corneas which after death become unusable anyway. With ones eye donation, two to six visually disabled persons get invaluable gift of sight. Every one of us keeping aside our prejudices and superstitions must consider these facts seriously and on tribute to this holy cause by not only pledging one's eyes but also motivating relatives of the deceased when a death occurs in a family or in the vicinity.