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Times of India
25 August 2010
By Ashish Tripathi
Lucknow, India

Low Eye Donation Rate In UP Owing To Lack Of Government & Public Interest
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Priti, 16, is fond of computers since childhood. Now a Class X student, she aspires to become a computer scientist. But the world turned black for her, two years back, when an infection in her eyes resulted in corneal blindness. "It was hell...for two years, I was under acute depression, even dropped out from school," she recalled. But now after cornea transplant, the girl can see again. She has enrolled herself in school again and is gearing up to realise her dream. "The first thing I did after getting my eyesight back was to hold the mouse and play my favourite game on the computer," she chuckled.

Shahana lost her eyesight when she was just 2–year–old because of vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition . "Everything was black. I wondered how I look like," said the girl, now 6–yearold, trying to explain her blindness. Things changed last year when she underwent an eye transplant.

Initially, everything was so bright that she could not tolerate even a ray of light. But through training, her sight gradually became normal and the brain started responding to signals. She learnt to recognise things and now she can read and write. Now the little girl loves to preen in front of mirror for hours. ‘‘I look at myself all the time," she admits, with the candour of a child.

Priti and Shahana were fortunate enough to have got a cornea for transplant after an year’s wait. Otherwise, people have to wait for more than two years for corneal transplant, because number of eye donations is very low in UP. A pair of eyes is used to enlighten life of two persons – one cornea each. "Though there has been some increase in donation in comparison to five years back but it has yet to go a long way. Also, most donors are elderly. The tissue we get is poor in quality and has less life in comparison to the one donated by a young one," said Dr Poonam Kishore, Ophthalmolgy department, CSMMU.

"Today we have technology to use a cornea to light the life of more than one person," said Dr Hemant Kumar, Lucknow Eye Bank. "The cornea has five layers of which upto three superficial layers can be implanted in a person who has lost eyesight due to corneal opacity caused due to injury, infection, malnutrition, vitamin A deficiency, among other things. In the new technique, the lower layers of the affected cornea remains, while upper layers are transplanted. As a result, the rejection rate is low," he explained. Dr Kumar said creating awareness should be a year–long process and not just confined to a fortnight (it being National Eye Donation Fortnight from August 25–Sept 8).

In UP, number of eye donation pledges filed in a year are around 16,000–17,000 but actual donations are around 350 against the requirement of 25,000. Cornea donations are high in southern and western parts of the country because of ‘Hospital cornea retrieval programme’ in which counsellors have been appointed in the hospitals where critically ill and trauma cases are brought. These counsellors convince relatives of terminally–ill people to donate eyes of their dear ones after death.

"The programme could not succeed in UP because of apathy of government officials," alleged a senior ophthalmologist in the city. Shruti lost her eyesight due to a corneal disease, when she was 23. "I was doing PhD and all of a sudden everything was gone." she said while narrating five years of darkness and depression under which she even tried to end her life twice.

However, family support and doctors’ encouragement kept her going. "More frustrating was the three–year long wait for transplant as donors were not available," she said. Now teaching in a school, she is also planning to marry. "The person whose eyes are now showing me the world is like the God to me," she said adding: "We all need to donate eyes to light lives of others.’’

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