Donors give new meaning to ‘eye for an eye’

By Madhulika Sonkar, IANS
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NEW DELHI - Schoolgoer Shivani Batra, who is 12 years old now, would often ask what the colour pink looked like, making her mother’s eyes well up. The Delhi girl suffered from corneal blindness - a problem that affects two million people in India.

But all this changed, when in 2006, Shivani’s family came to know of corneal transplants through an eye bank. An eye donor was found for Shivani - who had the problem from birth - and after a successful operation, a whole new world revealed itself to her.

“We were worried about her future. She had whole life in front of her,” Shivani’s mother Rajni Batra told IANS. “We can’t explain our gratitude to the person who donated his eyes. Giving light to someone requires courage.”

The advent of the private sector and voluntary organisations, including NGOs, has seen a remarkable rise in eye donations in India. Corneal transplants are emerging as a ray of hope for those waiting for sight.

Corneal transplant operation requires replacing the opaque cornea with a clear cornea. A clear cornea is obtained from a donor’s eye.

“Earlier there was no means of storing eyes after one died. But now, with sufficient storage methods and more willing donors, eye donation is picking pace in India,” said Jayeeta Bose, eye bank in-charge of the Venu Eye Institute.

The institute conducts 15-20 corneal transplants in a month, with a 70 percent success rate.

The Eye Bank Association of India currently has over 400 eye banks registered with it. Eye donation camps have also

raised the pledge ceremonies happening to donate eyes.

With one fourth of the world’s blind population living in India - numbering around 11.25 million - blindness is identified as a major health problem in the country.

In an effort to promote and create awareness about eye donations, the Venu Eye Institute recently hosted an eye donation fortnight in the capital that saw the participation of over 1,500 school students in a slogan writing and poster-making competition.

“The need of the hour is to educate the masses on eye donation. People need to be aware; eye donation requires a strong

will and medical help at the time of death,” said Bose.

According to an eye bank advisory, the procedure for eye donation requires a call by the donor’s kin to the nearest eye bank within six hours of his or her death.

“Eye extraction takes less than 20 minutes. Later, these eyes are transplanted to a recipient body through the process of cornea transplant,” added Bose.

Tanvi Kavishwar was one such donor who died last May at the age of 17 from meningitis. At 13, she had expressed a desire to donate her eyes. With tears in his eyes, Tanvi’s father Sadanand Kavishwar recalls the moment and says with pride that his daughter is still able to “see” him.

“She wanted to donate her eyes. I am proud to be her father and feel that she can still see me,” said Sadanand Kavishwar.

“Donate eyes - you have the power in you to help visually-impaired people see this world,” he added. He was felicitated at an eye donation ceremony in the capital.

While cataract is responsible for nearly 20 million of the 45 million blind people in the world, the second major cause of concern is corneal blindness. Cataract blindness can also be treated through surgery.

(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at [email protected])

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