In search of an eyeball

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- About 13,000 eyeballs are collected every year in India, but only about 7,000 of them are actually used in corneal graft surgeries. One of the main reasons for this pathetic situation is that eyebanks in India do not have the facilities to preserve these eyeballs, which have to be used within 24 hours of the donor's death for a successful graft.

However, several Indian eyebanks will soon have fully-equipped "eye" preservation laboratories, the first of which is to be set up in Hyderabad with the assistance from the International Federation of Eye Banks (IFEB) and the Tissue Banks International (TBI) of the US. The facility will distribute the preserving medium for eyeballs, called MK, free of cost till the end of this year, says R K Seth, director of Venu Eye Institute. Thereafter, it will sold for a price, which will depend on the success of the experiment, he adds.

Speaking in a seminar on The Status of Eye Banks in India -- Past and Future, Frederick N Griffith, chief executive officer of IFEB and president of TBI, said that the federation will stick to the highest possible standards for eye tissue preservation and provide surgical facilities to member eyebanks. TBI, which has opened 10 eyebanks in the US and 13 in other countries -- 1 each in Hyderabad, Bombay and Ahmedabad -- intends to open 3 more in India, including 1 in Delhi. Griffith has promised $500,000 for setting up eyebanks in India, disclosed Seth.

Griffith lamented the proliferation of eyebanks in India that have no coordination amongst themselves. In the US, he says, large cities have just one eyebank, while in Bombay there are about 20. This, he says, leads to unhealthy competition. Besides, there is no point having several eyebanks when you don't have facilities to either test the eyes for healthiness, or preserve them once they are accepted. Says Madhu Mohan, director of the Delhi-based M M Eyetech and former head of the Rajendra Prasad Eye Centre at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences, "Although 2 million people await corneal graft surgery, we do not do more than 7,000 in this country. If this situation continues, I don't think the government can meet its target of reducing the number of blind from the 1.49 per cent of the total population at present to about 0.3 per cent."

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