The road to a new pair of eyes is being routed through private eye banks, instead of government hospitals, in and around the city, claim experts.
With only the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology (RIO) managing to hold out — though it, too, has recorded a lower number of eye-replacement cases than one of the private institutes this year — the private clinics are gradually filling the vacuum to give hope to the visually-challenged.
The three private institutes that have overtaken the government-run institutes in eye donations and replacements are Disha Eye Hospital in Barrackpore, Sushrut in Salt Lake and Silver Line in south Calcutta. Of these, Disha alone has overtaken the combined number of donations and replacements in government-run institutes, say officials, while the other two are catching up fast.
According to Nil Ratan Sirkar (NRS) Hospital superintendent Shyamal Rudra, the NRS eye bank, also known as the Atul Ballabh Eye Bank, sees “a donation or two once in a blue moon”. The eye bank remains closed for the better part of the day, despite the fact that donors have been waiting for three months to pitch in, say officials.
RIO, however, is better placed. There have been 167 donations till October and 81 cornea-grafting operations this year. But, considering the fact that the number of applicants is 1,184, the donation scenario is not exactly bright. “We have received more than 20,000 written pledges, but things could have been better if all of them turned into actual donations,” said RIO director G. Bhaduri on Wednesday.
Disha, however, has already overtaken RIO, the largest state-run eye bank in eastern India. “The bank receives 300-plus pairs of eyes annually, of which around 70 per cent are in usable condition,” said Disha founder and co-director Debashis Bhattacharya. “Many of the donated pairs are actually unfit to be used, but we don’t turn the donors away. If we start doing that, then in a short while there will be no donors at all,” he added, explaining why the waiting list here, too, stood at 2,000.
Silver Line, run by Rammohan Mission, started operations recently but its collections have already crossed the NRS figures for the corresponding period. “We have already completed around 15 grafting cases and are now planning to open a 20-bed unit in Bolpur,” said Rammohan Mission founder Shankar Biswas.
Salt Lake’s Sushrut, too, has already left the NRS eye bank far behind, with donations crossing the double-digit barrier every month and replacements in the past four years crossing the three-figure mark. “But we receive at least twice the number of applicants,” admitted manager Shibaji Seal, explaining why the discrepancy between demand and supply was too large to overcome.
Public apathy plays a major role in this case, say health department officials, adding that the list of donors is always too short compared to the number of applicants. “Lack of awareness and superstition contribute a lot to this difference,” said general secretary of Ganadarpan Brojo Ray, one of the voluntary organisations working in this field, adding that there is a trend in donating blood, but when it comes to the eyes, people are not willing.