Giving sight to those who need
JUL 31 -
Nepal’s only eye bank at the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmo-logy has restored vision to thousands with its harvested corneas for the past 18 years. Established in 1994, the eye bank has since received 4,710 donated corneas.
Tilganga performs free corneal transplants, prioritising those who are blind in both eyes, the young and the poor. Most of the corneas are donated by people signing a donation card, which are later collected by the eye bank upon the donor’s death. A few corneas are also collected from cremation sites by convincing family members.
Manager of the eye bank Shankha Narayan Twayana, however, claims that obtaining corneas from donors is a difficult task. “It is very difficult to convince people to donate their corneas due to superstitious belief in Nepali society that they will be blind in their next lives if their corneas are removed now,” said Twayana. “People need to be broad-minded and know that by donating corneas they are giving sight to others even after their death. They should also know that we are just a medium to take cornea from a person and transplant it to another.”
Tilganga’s eye bank serves not only Nepalis but also hundreds of patients from India and other countries. “We treat all patients the same and don’t judge them by their nationality. Our main aim is to give sight to the blind,” Twayana said.
However, despite a large number of people streaming in for transplants, the eye bank remains understaffed with only three full-time employees.
According to Ananda Sharma, ophthalmologist at the BP Koirala Lions Centre for Ophthalmic Studies under the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, success rate of corneal transplants is much higher than other transplant operations. “Unlike other transplants, corneal transplant is less complicated and more successful because there is less chance of rejection,” Sharma said. The problem is not just the harvest and availability of corneas for transplant but also the implementation of a proper health care system, Sharma said. “Although a large number of people donate corneas in their lifetime, it is difficult to track them down after they die. Lack of patient information and failure to utilise available health record are the major problems. The government should develop a system to record patients’ medical history before and after their death,” he said.
Corneas should be extracted from the donor’s dead body as soon as possible. However, the body first needs to be thoroughly examined for diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. The transplant operation takes around one and a half hours and the patients who receive corneas will regain vision gradually. The patients will fully recover their sight within two to four weeks.
The eye bank has also successfully expanded its service to places such as Pokhara, Biratnagar, Dhangadhi and Lahan. As the transplant is a minor operation, it can be performed by a general eye surgeon with access to the eye bank. The eye bank is carrying out awareness campaigns to encourage people to donate corneas.
Posted on: 2012-07-31 08:09