iconimg Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sutirtho Patranobis & Naziya Alvi, Hindustan Times
Colombo/Mumbai, December 28, 2009
Managing director of the Sri Lanka Eye Donation Society (SLEDS) Dr MHS Cassim doesn’t like it when asked whether Sri Lanka is the second largest exporter of corneas in the world. Cassim doesn’t have problems with being second after the US in sending corneas abroad; his problem is with the word “exporter’’.

“We don’t export but donate. We only charge processing fees. We don't sell corneas,’’ he said.

For a country with about 20 million population (less than Mumbai’s), Sri Lanka is doing exceptionally well in harvesting and donating corneas.

Since SLEDS was set up in 1964, it has donated over 1.35 lakh corneas to patients in and outside the country and for research. More than 8.7 lakh donors are registered for donation. 

“We have donated more than 55,900 corneas to patients in 117 cities in 61 countries. Among the largest recipients are Pakistan and Egypt. Last month, we donated 100 corneas to South Africa,’’ Cassim said.

SLEDS manager, JDM Arachchi said till few years ago, Indian hospitals would ask for corneas but the requests have dropped.

“Between 1973 and now, we sent more than 4,300 corneas to India. The number is 2006 was 33, 2007 was 5 and in 2008 it went up to 23. This year only few have been sent to India,’’ Arachchi said.

But it is difficult to explain the drop in requests from India.

As of now, more than 500 patients are waiting for a healthy cornea in Mumbai alone where the average waiting period for a healthy cornea is between five and seven months.

The youngest patient awaiting a cornea in Mumbai is a four-month-old baby.

The Eye Bank Coordinator and Research Center (Mumbai) head Deepak Dalal said shortage in eye donations is related to communities not doing enough to promote organ donation. “In Sri Lanka the donations are high as it is largely a Buddhist society and lots of priests make it a point to create awareness on eye donations,’’ Dalal said.

For example, on Full Moon days, which are sacred and national holidays in Sri Lanka, Buddhist temples exhort citizens to donate organs.

Campaigns are carried out in schools to sensitise students about organ donation. “There is no superstition in Buddhist culture against organ donation,’’ Cassim said.

In Sri Lanka, cornea is harvested with either the patient’s consent before death or with the consent of the patient’s next of kin after death.

Eye centres like the one in Mumbai have been campaigning for a law like in the US where there is “consent’’ in accident cases.

It’s the same city where there were 92,000 deaths (as per records of the municipality) in 2008 and only 2012 eyes were pledged for donation.

Till India has eye donation laws in place or there is some providential spread of awareness, Sri Lanka’s example will only serve as a eye opener.