NEW DELHI: In a country where organ donation is still considered a taboo, AIIMS has successfully completed 50 years of corneal transplants. Since 1965, when the National Eye Bank was set up at the medical institute, 23,239 corneas have been donated, of which 16,252 have been transplanted successfully in patients searching for the gift of sight.
Dr J S Titiyal, chairman of the National Eye Bank, told TOI that some of the earliest celebrity eye donors included Rajiv Gandhi. “His wish, of course, could not be fulfilled as he was assassinated,” he said. The circumstances of Gandhi’s death precluded the harvest of the organs. Donated eyes can be removed within six to eight hours after death and preserved for up to two weeks.
“Till about five years ago, the waiting period for general patients needing an eye transplant was three years in AIIMS,” said Dr Atul Kumar, chief of the Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences at AIIMS. “It has been reduced to less than a year due increased donors.” He said that the centre had got over a thousand corneas each year since 2013. This year, up to July 31, it had received 833 corneas, of which 522 were successfully used for transplants.”
Cornea is the transparent tissue that covers the eye. It allows light to enter the eyeball and performs two-thirds of the focusing tasks. For people suffering from vision loss due to irreparable damage of the tissue, a transplant is the only option. An eye transplant involves replacing a diseased or scarred cornea with a donor graft.
According to ophthalmologists, eye transplants are most in need among those in the elderly age group, particularly those who have failed to regain proper vision in spite of cataract surgery. They are followed by adults who suffer from blindness due to trauma or infection and children born with corneal opacity.
Experts say that with India’s 1.2 crore vision-impaired people, there is a requirement of at least two lakh donor corneas annually. “We get only about one lakh every year,” said Dr Titiyal.