More than 22,000 eyes donated in the country last year went waste due to delay or infections, even as statistics showed that about 2.5 lakh blind people in India could regain eyesight if they get a corneal transplant.
Only 22,384 eyes were used for transplant in 2013-14 even though 51,354 eyes were donated, according to union health ministry data. The numbers cut a sorry figure over the past few years with more than half of the donated eyes going waste, reports The Times of India.
"The delay often occurs when family members of the deceased do not inform the nearest eye bank about the death. In time of grief, they do not think about it. And even if they do, the window period lapses as eyes have to be retrieved within six hours after death," said Dr Ashwin Agarwal, senior cornea surgeon of Agarwal Eye Hospitals, Chennai.
The removed eyes should be stored in an eye bank, where it could be preserved for up to 14 days, or they should be implanted in the next 24 hours. Infections lead to many harvested eyes being rendered useless. "We perform a blood test on the deceased, and if we find they have any infection, the eyes are declared unfit for transplant," Dr Agarwal said.
Doctor MP Veenashree, consultant cornea surgeon of Global Hospitals, said that there was a lack of awareness among the public towards eye donation even though hospital-based cornea retrieval was easy. "In a country of more than a billion people, only a few thousands come forward to donate their eyes. Moreover, unlike big metros, small towns do not have enough donation counsellors to facilitate the process," she said.
Doctor E Ravindra Mohan, senior ophthalmologist of Trinethra Eye Care, said a certain degree of wastage was expected since the inclusion yardstick for eye donation was very vast.
"We never say no to anyone who wants to donate their eyes, regardless of the condition of the organ. After running tests when we diagnose that the corneas are unfit, those eyes are considered a waste," he said.
A lack of coordination among eye banks was attributed as one of the reasons for eyes getting wasted. "Unlike the cadaver donation programme in Tamil Nadu that works in a seamless manner, there is no free flow of information between eye banks to facilitate eye donations. There should be better co-ordination among them and they should be open to sharing," said Dr Mohan.