Corneal blindness is one of the leading causes of blindness: Dr. Harsh Vardhan

Stressing on the need to push eye donation in the country, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare said that corneal blindness is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. The National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey 2019, jointly conducted by AIIMS (Delhi) and the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has reported that corneal blindness was the leading cause of blindness among patients aged less than 50 years in India, accounting for 37.5% of the cases and was the second leading cause of blindness among patients above the age of 50 years. 

Addressing  the National Eye Donation fortnight celebrations over the interactive webinar organised by AIIMS, New Delhi and the National Eye bank, Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “In India, approximately 68 lakh people suffer from corneal blindness in at least one eye; of these, 10 lakh people are blind in both their eyes.”

World Health Organization (WHO) reports estimate that approximately 5% of the world’s population is blind due to corneal diseases alone. 

Since the only known treatment to corneal blindness is corneal transplant, the Minister urged to increase awareness to fill the demand and supply gap of corneal tissue. Speaking on the shortfall of donations in recent months due to the COVID pandemic and associated fear, he remarked, “The eye-banking system has been one of its worst victims among the routine non-emergency medical activities that have borne the brunt of this pandemic. 

The eye-banking guidelines of various countries, including India, have advised temporary suspension of donor cornea retrieval and elective corneal transplantation surgeries when active lockdown measures were being implemented. This led to almost negligible cornea retrieval in April-May with more than 90% fall in corneal transplant surgeries.

Dr Harsh Vardhan reiterated the advice of the medical community that it is highly unlikely for the virus to be transmitted via donor corneas. He further expressed happiness that eye banking activities have been resumed in non COVID hospitals via the Hospital Cornea Retrieval Programme in India and congratulated the Eye Bank Association of India (EBAI) for coming out with detailed advisory on precautionary measures with regard to corneal tissue retrieval to ensure maximum safety to the tissue recipients and those handling them.

However, he cautioned everybody present that in a country as populous as India, the present statistics are next to dismal. He beckoned every-body present to take inspiration from Prime Minister’s effort in achieving goals that could not be worked upon in the last six decades and leapfrog in the field of corneal donation and transplants. “Exhaustive strategy including strategic placement of collection teams in trauma centres and mortuaries need to encouraged. We need to set target and focus to achieve concrete results and fulfil Prime Minister’s Vision of New India by 2022,” he added.

Prof RandeepGuleria, Director, AIIMS, Dr Atul Kumar,Chief, Rajendra Prasad Eye Centre, AIIMS, Dr Jeewan S Titiyal,Chairman, National Eye Bank and other doctors and officials of various medical associations and institutions were shared their views.