, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 26 – Kenyans are now being urged to donate their cornea in case they die, to meet the high costs involved in acquiring them from other countries as well as to help counter the acute shortage in the eye bank.
Lions Eye Hospital Eye bank Technician/Counsellor Gerald Muriithi on Thursday told Capital News that there were about 2,000 people who have been booked for cornea grafting and every day they receive two new cases to the rising list.
“We are talking about a population of 50,000 people who require them and 2,000 people have booked with us. If per annum we get 24 eyes, it will take us forever to clear that list of 2,000,” he said.
About 250,000 Kenyans suffer blindness in Kenya and 50,000 of them can have their sight restored through cornea grafting.
Mr Muriithi says it is unfortunate that 80 percent of those requiring cornea grafting are people below 30 years and fears that most of them may get permanent blindness if they stay with the condition for too long.
He says as the list of those requiring grafting gets longer it will be hard to treat them due to lack of sufficient cornea.
He says currently Kenya gets cornea from the US, India and Sri Lanka which makes it very expensive due to the cost of transportation.
For example, the hospital spends about $1,300 to transport them from the US which he says becomes unaffordable to many eye patients.
If Kenyans don’t start donating their corneas, their supply is likely to decline since Sri Lanka is no longer giving theirs due to high demand there.
Due to the cost involved, patients requiring a cornea are charged about Sh170,000 but for those from poor backgrounds they are required to pay Sh120,000 for grafting.
If there is local donation, Mr Muriithi says they would pay only Sh45,000 for the operation.
He says the eye bank gets only 24 corneas per year and compared to the 2,000 people in need, it is almost impossible that all of them will receive treatment on time.
He is looking forward to celebrating the day that the first Kenyan will donate his/her cornea to the almost empty eye bank at the hospital.
Some Kenyans have made pledges that when they die their cornea should be given to the hospital. Mr Muriithi however says this remains a reality test owing it to the cultural and religious believes common in Kenya.
He says people who have pledged to donate their cornea should involve the consent of their family members when filling the Eye Pledge Declaration form that upon their death they should immediately inform Lions Eye Hospital so that they can be allowed to take their cornea.
While he acknowledges the challenge of family members who will be mourning the death of their relative, he says they should fulfil his/her wish to help a blind person by donating their cornea.
“Assist the eye bank when you are alive, fill in the pledge form saying that you desire to give us your cornea upon your death, inform your family members so that when you die, they can immediately inform us so that we can get the cornea,” he pleads.
A cornea can only be useful if it is taken within the first 6 hours after death.
The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber.
Mr Muriithi says only that part of the eye is removed and the eye is left in shape in case people fear that it will look deformed.
“We normally put a shell on top after removing the cornea. No one would even realise anything was taken from the eye, it looks completely normal,” he explains.
He says HIV/AIDS and other diseases should not hinder anyone from donating their corneas since they are also required for research. “The decision on whether your cornea will be used or not should be left to the medical expert, yours is just to accept to donate.”
Lion’s Eye Hospital was launched in 2009 and its eye bank is the first in East and Central Africa.
Since its inception it has had 350 cornea operations.