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The World Eye Donation Fortnight is celebrated from August 25th to September 8th every year. This fortnight is used to raise awareness about eye donation, dispel common misconceptions surrounding it and presenting relevant facts and figures so that more people come forward to pledge their eyes.

Why should one consider donating eyes?

Did you know that the cornea is the clear tissue covering the front of the eye? The cornea clouds over or becomes opaque due to disease, infection, injury or poor nutrition. This leads to vision loss.

There are nearly 11 lakh people in the Indian population who are blind and are looking for a donation. Every year, about 25,000 new cases of corneal blindness are reported. By 2020, approximately 10.6 million people will have corneal blindness.

Eyes are one of the most important sensory organs. Visually impaired people live a very poor quality of life as they can feel and smell things but cannot see it.

However, there are not enough eye donors to help these people. Considering that one eye donation can benefit two blind people, more people must come forward with donation.

Eye donation means donating the eyes of a person after death for transplantation. This is done with the family’s consent and the pre-written consent of the donor. But there are many superstitions, beliefs and stigmas attached with eye donation. This stops people from signing up for eye donation.

Eye donation is fully voluntary and is done as a work of charity. Even if a deceased person hasn’t donated his/her eyes, their immediate relatives can do so. There is no barrier for eye donation. It is a common misconception that people with diabetes and high blood pressure cannot donate their eyes. In fact, the deceased could have had any disease, yet their eyes can be donated.

As eye donation can improve the quality of life of many people afflicted by blindness, more people should opt for eye donation.

Common eye problems in older adults that can result in vision impairment

Vision loss is a major health care problem. There are 161 million visually impaired people in the world. Out of these, every 5th blind person lives in India, making it one of the most significant health issues. 61% of the population over the age of 40 years in South India and 75.3% people over the age of 50 in North India have cataract. Cataract is one of the most common problems causing visual impairment in older adults. It causes 60-80% of all blindness in older adults in India. The prevalence of cataract in India is thrice than that of the United States.

Other age-related eye diseases that cause visual impairment are Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), Diabetic Eye Disease, Glaucoma, Dry Eye, and Low Vision.

The National Programme for Control of Blindness (NPCB) data shows that there are 1,20,000 people are affected by corneal blindness with 25,000-30,000 new cases every year. To address this issue, nearly 2,50,000 corneas are required per year. But the current rate of donation is 25,000 per year. According to the AIIMS, they received 23,000 eye donations, out of which they used 16,000 for transplantations. They have conducted over 1000 transplantations in 2018.

When can one donate their eyes?

There are certain criteria you have to fulfil in order to donate your eyes.

These are older adults who can and cannot donate their eyes:

Can:

  1. People with short-sightedness or far-sightedness or those wearing spectacles for corrective reasons
  2. People with astigmatism
  3. People who have undergone cataract treatment/surgery
  4. People with diabetes, hypertension and asthma
  5. People who do not have any communicable disease

Cannot:

  1. People with AIDS
  2. People with Hepatitis B or C
  3. People suffering from leukemia
  4. People having communicable diseases like meningitis, cholera, rabies and encephalitis
  5. People with tetanus and septicaemia

How do you donate your eyes?

  1. Approach your local NGOs or eye banks regarding further information. You can also sign up on online websites like Organ India, Mohan Foundation or Eye Bank Association of India.
  2. When a donor is at the last stage of a terminal illness, inform the hospital authorities about the donation
  3. Get the death confirmed legally. In India, brain death is legal.
  4. Recover the organs. Eyes need to be harvested within 4-6 hours of death.
  5. These are then quickly transported to a secure storage centre where they can survive for a longer period of time.
  6. The organization then looks for a matching receiver. Once there is a match, the organ is transported to the location.
  7. The receiver undergoes surgery in which the new cornea is inserted.
  8. In case there is no match all over India, the organ is sent for research.

Institutes that takes care of eye donation in India

  1. National Eye Bank – AIIMS
  2. Organ India: You can get state-wise and city-wise eye collection centre names here
  3. Eye Bank Association of India
  4. MOHAN Foundation

Myths on Eye Donation

  1. There will be holes in my eye sockets
    • Fact: Only the cornea (the clear topmost layer of the eye) is removed. The whole eyeball remains intact.
  2. It will offend the Gods
    • Fact: No religion preaches against organ donation. As you do it for charity, it is counted as good karma. However, you have to convince yourself of the same.
  3. If I have undergone cataract surgery, I cannot donate my eyes
    • Fact: Cataract surgery is done on your lens while for donation, cornea is extracted. Even if you have undergone cataract surgery, you can donate your eyes.
  4. I have diabetes, I cannot donate my eyes
  5. Older adults cannot donate their eyes
    • Fact: With old age, you may face short- or far-sightedness or astigmatism. However, these do not pose any problems for eye donation.
  6. Cornea transplant is experimental
    • Fact: Cornea transplant has been successfully carried out since quite a while. It is an established and completely safe process with a high success rate.
  7. If I have donated my eyes, my relatives have no say
    • Fact: Your next of kin love you and need to give permission to proceed with the donation, even if you have decided to donate your eyes.
  8. There is a black market for donated organs
    • Fact: There are strict laws about organ trafficking in India. Any person or organization involved in such activities will be punished and penalized severely. There are several organizations that are verified by the National Organ and Tissue Transplant organization (NOTTO). These organizations ensure your eyes are in safe hands after donation.

Celebrities who Encourage Eye Donation

There are many famous people including Bollywood actors who have donated their eyes:

  1. Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan: This power-couple of Bollywood has gone ahead and pledged their eyes. Many others followed their lead to do so.
  2. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: She was one of the first Bollywood actors to speak out regarding eye donation. Her eyes are well-loved and she hopes to live on forever by donating her eyes.
  3. Priyanka Chopra: After facing many issues while procuring organs for her father, Priyanka Chopra has decided to donate all her organs.
  4. R Madhavan: This South superstar has pledged all his harvestable organs including bone marrow, tissues and cartilages to save as many lives as he can.
  5. Sunil Shetty: He has pledged his eyes and urges others to donate theirs too.
  6. Juhi Chawla: She once visited a cataract camp and instantly decided to donate her eyes seeing the sad condition of the people there.
  7. Hema Malini: Hema Malini is the brand ambassador of Vision 2020. She has the data of the actual rate of donation and has hence, pledged her eyes.
  8. Sonakshi Sinha: She has not only pledged her eyes but also actively promotes eye donation.
  9. Zakhir Hussain: This world-famous table player has signed up for eye donation and encourages everyone to donate their eyes.

Apart from these, various celebrities like Rajinikanth and Javed Akhtar support this drive.

Eye donation awareness is slowly increasing in India. In fact, 2017 recorded the highest number of eye donations. Increasing awareness and the feeling to do good for the society can help bridge the gap between demand and supply of the eye transplantation.

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