Corneal transplant and eye donations have witnessed a drop across Maharashtra this year until August, in comparison to 2019 (prior to the pandemic) and even in 2020-22 (post-pandemic). As per data provided by the state health department, 4,457 eye donations took place this year, while only 2,477 corneal transplants were done, which means only 55.67% of transplants were conducted.
Reasons could be lack of awareness and myths related to transplants
In 2019, 46% of corneal transplants were done, which rose to 62.38% and 61.38% in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Senior health officials have attributed this to the lack of awareness and myths related to transplants. Moreover, there is also lack of knowledge about the process. The number of cases of blindness are increasing every year but there arent enough donations to cater to the need for transplants. The state government ought to come up with a strategic plan to overcome the shortage by creating public awareness, said an official. Another senior health official from the civic health department said there has been a massive drop in corneal transplant surgeries post-pandemic, resulting in a longer waiting list and an equally long waiting period.
Before the pandemic, a person in need could get the donor cornea tissue within a month in big cities like Mumbai and Thane. Now the waiting period has gone up to two to three months. The eyes have to be removed within six hours of a persons death; if thats not possible, we use them for research. Most of the time, families refuse to donate eyes due to superstition for which we counsel them and explain why they should donate eyes of a brain-dead patient, said a doctor.
Accidental deaths higher in public hospitals
Moreover the number of patients who succumb during medical emergencies and accidental deaths is higher in public hospitals than in private hospitals. The eye donation coordinator is expected to communicate the process with the families of these patients but this post is vacant in many hospitals.
Ophthalmologists have expressed the need to see if this responsibility is carried out by those who are working in this position. Barring a few in Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Nagpur that deploy their own resources to upgrade technology, most continue to process eyeballs using older techniques and often there are damages while processing or transporting, an official said