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Eye bank scheme to combat cornea crisis

Faced with a cornea-supply crisis across the country, the state government has announced the opening of a central eye bank in the city. Also on the agenda is setting up of eye-collection centres in the city and the districts.

These will be monitored by a special accreditation committee, comprising leading ophthalmologists, including departmental heads of government hospitals.

The committee is expected to help improve the situation at the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology (RIO), Calcutta, and turn it into a super-speciality central eye bank.

“The need to improve the collection and to bring about a uniformity in the entire process prompted the decision to set up a central eye bank,” said Dr Satyabrata Bute, additional director, state health services directorate, on Saturday. A rough estimate puts the visually-impaired population in West Bengal at around 3 lakh.

The decision to form a special committee was taken in the wake of allegations that the donated corneas were not being preserved properly and there was a lack of transparency in the eye-transplantation process. “The committee will also oversee the criteria of applicants, who are keen to set up eye banks or collection centres,” Bute added.

At present, there are three government-accredited eye banks in Bengal, including Nilratan Sirkar Medical College and Hospital, Regional Institute of Ophthalmology, Calcutta, and one at Darjeeling. Under the new scheme, mobile van units will form an integral part of the eye collection centres. These will be equipped with the latest gadgets and have two doctors. “The project should boost cornea collection in the country. We have often seen that despite eye-donation pledges by people, collection could not be carried out because of poor networking,” said Jyotirmoy Dutta, head of department, ophthalmology, National Medical College and Hospital.

Incidentally, the Ophthalmology Blindness Control Section of the Union ministry of health and family welfare, despatched a letter to the state government in August, explaining the precarious situation in the country. “Only 20,000 corneas could be collected last year, against a requirement of 75,000 to 1 lakh to clear the backlog among children and for the nearly 10 lakh corneal transplantations in the country at the moment,” the letter pointed out.

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