Looking through gifted eyes

Dr. Shashi Sharma, Dr Satish K Gupta
“I summon the people of my nation, to give a thought to eye donation
Think when you leave your journey last, your possessions, your breath deserting you fast.
So before you cross the seven skies, pledge that you will donate your eyes.”
These are the words of Mr Harbaksh Singh, a blind who knows what vision is ! Like Harbaksh Singh there are 68 lakh people who are waiting for their turn to get eyes. Out of this, 10 lakh people are blind by both eyes. The cornea is the front transparent window of eyeball, just like a watch glass. The eyes cannot see, if this cornea is opaque even though rest of the eyeball inside is normal. The window of the eye is shut and it cannot see. Corneal injuries, infections, corneal dystrophy and degeneration and post-surgical bullous keratopathy are the main causes of corneal blindness. The vision or sight of such person can be restored by replacing diseased cornea by a healthy one. The National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey 2019, reported that the corneal blindness was the leading cause of blindness in persons aged less than 50 years of age, accounting for 37.5% of total cases and was the second leading cause of blindness among the persons above 50 years of age.
Where from to get healthy cornea? This is obtained from dead person within six hours after death and is grafted to a blind person to restore his/her vision. There is no dearth of infrastructure or manpower in the country, but only problem is procurement of the eyes. At present there are, 435 functional Eye Banks (EBs) and Eye Donation Centers (EDCs) in the country involved in collection and distribution of donated eyes as per the National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB). Roughly, about 1 crore deaths occur in India every year. Of this, 35000 corneal donations and 25000 corneal transplantations are done annually in India.
There are numerous reasons as to why people do not donate their eyes. Lack of awareness among the general public, absence of motivation, insufficient facilities in hospitals and institutes, social and religious myths are a major barriers towards eye donation. There are certain facts regarding eye donation. Anyone irrespective of his/her gender, age, blood group or religion can donate his/her eyes. People who use lenses or spectacles, or those who have been operated upon can still donate their eyes. All that is needed to have clear cornea. People suffering from diabetes, hypertension or asthma can also donate their eyes. People suffering from AIDS, Hepatitis B/C, Sepsis, Rabies, certain malignancies of head and neck, leukemia, meningitis and encephalitis cannot donate their eyes.
It is a matter of great pride for the people of Jammu region that Government Medical College, Jammu, now has its own Eye Bank, which is now registered with the Directorate General of Health Sciences, MOHFW, New Delhi as Eye bank, Corneal Donation and Retrieval Centre, by the efforts of Hospital administration, SOTTO J&K, Central and State Government. All the facilities for corneal retrieval and donation are now available in Government Medical College, Jammu.
Only problem lies in procurement of the eyes. Since eyes need to be removed within 6 hours after the death of the person for their further use, so Eye Bank, Government Medical College, Jammu ( Phone number : 0191-2584294) must be informed immediately after the death. Eye Bank will itself rush a team of doctors to the donor’s home. Eye donation is not a monetary exercise, and it is a complete act of charity. Eye removal takes only 10-15 minutes and leaves no scar or disfigurement of face. In most cases, the donation of eyes from one person cures blindness in two people. The identities of both the donor and recipient remain confidential and are not disclosed. Let all of us pledge to donate our eyes and also motivate our family, friends and relatives to do the same, so that when we close our eyes in final rest, two blinds will see this beautiful world once again, through each of us. Pledge forms for eye donation can be obtained either online or from Eye Bank, Government Medical College, Jammu. Eyes are the only gift which you can give after death.
(The authors are GMC-J Principal & HOD Ophalmology GMC-J)