Only one in three people in need of corneal transplant get it at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) because not enough people are donating their eyes.
While the demand for transplants has gone up manifold, the number of eye donations has not increased much - from an average 400 donations a year a decade ago to about 1,000 donations over the past few years.
"We need about 2,000 corneas a year. We are, however, not able to do more than 700 eye transplants because of a shortage of voluntary donors. The numbers that we get include corneas from all sources, including the Organ Retrieval Banking Organsiation (ORBO) and other eye banks," said a senior eye specialist at the hospital.
Shakti Eye Bank in Faridabad, Haryana, is one of the major donors of eyes to AIIMS. The wait period for general category patients lasts nearly a year in the hospital, and preference is given to those who cannot see with both eyes.
The doctors at the hospital claim that there is a peculiar problem that is making them lose eyes to other eye banks, even if the eyes have been pledged to their eye bank.
"People have told us that if they dial the universal eye bank number 1919 from their cell phones or even landlines, it connects to other eye banks in the city except our bank. Many a time, even our own staff members, wanting to donate eyes to us, have donated them to other banks because they got connected there," said the doctor.
"The calls are getting diverted to other banks on 1919, so people should call up our fixed-line phone, 011-26593060, if they wish to donate eyes to AIIMS. We get 6-7 voluntary donation calls a month, which we know is far less when compared to the effort of our team," said a staffer at AIIMS eye bank.
ORBO, AIIMS, also gets on an average a little more than 100 donations a year. Last year, it got 126 donations, which is the highest number donated in the past three years.
"We maintain a record from January to December every year and our numbers have been increasing every year, except in 2010 when we got only 90 donations," said Arti Vij, chief, ORBO.