Amid pandemic, demand for corneal transplant is rising

There has been a massive 70% drop in corneal transplant surgeries post-pandemic

Swapnil MishraUpdated: Sunday, September 05, 2021, 01:42 AM IST
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Mumbai: mAmid the ongoing pandemic, the demand for corneal transplant across the city has increased. People have started to donate cornea since May this year. In the last four months,150 corneas have been collected by the Tarun Mitra Mandal, a non-government organisation. Doctors said the corneal transplant had stopped across Mumbai due to the pandemic as there were no proper guidelines to conduct the transplant following the waiting list for corneal transplant had increased, but now e-donation makes a slow and steady start.

“There has been a massive 70% drop in corneal transplant surgeries post-pandemic, resulting in a longer waiting list and equally long waiting period. The transplant surgeries have slowly started picking up after the Union government lifted the restrictions on voluntary eye donations across the country in December, but it will take some time to regain the early pace,” said a senior health official from the civic health department.

Vikas Vira, president, Tarun Mitra Mandal, said that they were getting calls for corneal transplant during the ongoing pandemic but they were turned away as there were no Covid norms in place. The cornea retrieval from the deceased started in non-Covid hospitals last September but there were hardly any. "This year in May we started retrieving the cornea and so far 150 have been collected, however, in the first two months there were fewer donations but in July and August, 48 donations were made. Moreover, we expect these numbers will increase in future so that we can clear all backlogs and the waiting period will reduce,” he said.

As per the guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, for the home cornea retrieval, certain guidelines were laid down. This includes ensuring the patient didn’t have any symptoms or had exposure to Covid-19 positive patients in the family. "We check if the deceased had tested positive or diagnosed with Covid-19 within the past 45 days. Also, we check if the deceased had acute respiratory illness or fever or any symptoms generally associated with Covid. Unless and until we have a copy of the death certificate and complete history from relatives or physicians, the home retrieval of cornea will be kept on hold."

The guideline also includes taking swabs of the deceased. "It is mandatory to collect the nasal swab of the deceased. In cases the deceased is suffering from any viral infection, pneumonia, ARDS or any infection related to lungs, the eye donation is not processed."

Mumbai-based consultant cornea specialist Dr Quresh Maskati of Eye Bank Coordination and Research Centre, said, prior to the pandemic, a person used to get the donor cornea tissue within a month in big cities like Mumbai and Thane. But now the waiting period has gone up to two to three months. Moreover, the corneal transplantation had to be stopped due to the Covid norms. “We used to take the eyeballs only from the Covid-19 negative patients. But there were no guidelines in place. So we used to retrieve eyes from the deceased at the hospital as we knew their Covid-19 status,” he said.

The doctors said awareness continues to be an issue as most of the citizens are unaware of cornea donation. Moreover, the patients need corneal transplants when they suffer from severe conditions where corneal repair is not possible and the transplant is the only resort. “Despite campaigns, we still get calls after the crucial window of 4-6 hours. Also, the problem with older eyeballs is that once the cell count drops to less than 2,000, it is not fit for transplant,” said Dr Dheeraj Jain, Baachooli Eye hospital in Parel.

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