Eye donation is a charitable act wherein a person pledges to donate his/her eyes after death. In India, lakhs of people are in need of a corneal transplant to restore their eyesight. Unfortunately, less than ten per cent of this demand is met and most people have to suffer blindness. It is estimated that 12 million people in India are waiting for a corneal transplant. 1/4th of the world’s blind population resides in India, many of whom are children. These striking figures have also led to some proposals that eye donation after death should be made compulsory.
There have been considerable efforts from the government, NGOs, and private institutes to increase public awareness about the need for an increased eye donation in India. Yet the donation figures remain abysmally low. The reason for hesitancy in committing to eye donation after death is due to lack of awareness about the process as well as deep-rooted superstitions which again originate from the lack of understanding about organ donation.
Here are five things about eye donation which elude most people:
- The whole eye is not transplanted– Presently, only the cornea and sclera can be used for transplantation, not the whole eye. The cornea is the transplant layer which covers the front of the eye and Sclera is the white part of the eye. In fact, the cornea transplant is one of the most commonly performed transplant procedure in human beings currently.
- There is no age limit to donate eyes– If a person has pledged to donate his/her eyes they are retrieved only after their death. In most cases, the eyes are utilized to give the gift of sight to someone in need, but after the age of 80, sometimes eye can become ineligible to be used for donation. Eyes must be retrieved within 4-6 hours of death and the donated eyes must be used within 4 days.
- Eye donation is against my religion– All the major religions of the world support eye donation and encourage it as a noble social service which gives someone else the ability to live a better quality of life. This gift of sight is consistent with the good values which are preached by all the world’s religions.
- Donor’s family will neither pay nor receive any money– It is a purely voluntary act of charity for which the donor or donor’s family is not given any money, as the selling or buying of organs is illegal. The donor’s family should contact the nearest eye bank so that a medical practitioner can visit and retrieve the eyes. The entire process takes not more than 30 minutes. The donor’s family is not asked to pay any sum to facilitate the process of eye donation.
- Not everyone is eligible to donate eyes– While eyes are one of the easiest organs to donate, with weak eyesight and even treated cataract proving no hindrance, the donor needs to be tested for high-risk diseases like HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, etc. In case the eye tissue is not suitable to be used for donation, it is evaluated for medical research.
There is no discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender or religion when it comes to eye donation. This selfless act has the capacity to improve someone’s quality of life by giving them the gift of sight. So pledge to donate eyes, and be sure to inform your next of kin so that they can implement your decision after your death.
Dr. Uma Mallaiah is a Senior Consultant and Ophthalmologist with Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.