In 2008, of the 92,000 deaths reported in Mumbai only in 1,050 cases’ corneas were donated to an eye bank. Compare this to Sri Lanka, which has population less than Mumbai, but is now exporting surplus corneas received in eye donations.
“In Mumbai, people are quick to pledge their eyes. But pledges don’t always translate into actual donations,” said Deepak Dalal, administrator, Eye Bank Co-ordination & Research Centre (EBCRC).
Dalal’s comment comes a day after activists observed the World White Cane Safety Day on Thursday to promote safety for visually impaired persons.
Bharat Vikas Parishad and BrihanMaharastra Apang Vikas Sangathan have collected 11 lakh eye donation pledges from Maharashtra over 10 years.
However, eye donations in past three years in the city have shown a negligible increase. As per figures provided by the EBCRC, a government-authorised collection bank, in 2006, nearly 900 eye donations were made. The number of eye donations rose to 1,025 in 2007.
“The responsibility of donating the eyes lies with the family of the deceased. Thus, though plenty of people pledge their eyes, very few reach the eye banks,” said Sam Taraporevala, a visually impaired Sociology professor at St Xavier’s College.
In Mumbai, the wait for a healthy cornea for transplant can be as long as six months. “In a small country like Sri Lanka the donations are so high that they export corneas. However, despite being such a big country, Indians are not donating enough to support our own needs,” Dalal added.
Kusum Veera, a social worker with Tarun Mitra Mandal, which runs 45 eye donation centres, said lack of awareness is the basic problem.
“In countries like the US, there is a law of ‘presumed consent’ that empowers doctors to remove healthy corneas from bodies brought in to hospitals after accidents and other medico-legal cases,” said Veera. Dalal said in India too activists have been lobbying for a similar law but the proposal is stuck with the government for over six years.
(Inputs from Aarefa Johari)