The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calcutta loses sight of eye donation
- Bengal’s record also poor, way behind first-placed Gujarat

Calcutta, Sept. 1: Talk about eye-openers, this picture hardly makes good viewing.

For a city said to be teeming with do-gooders, Calcutta’s image seems to have suffered with statistics that show the Bengal capital donated only 125 pairs of eyes last year. In fact, compared to other major cities, it is low down on the list.

The state, on the whole, comes 10th with 474 donations out of a national total of nearly 20,000, far behind riot-ravaged Gujarat — at the top with 4,649 donations — and Jayalalithaa’s Tamil Nadu, at second place with 4,348 donations.

A part of the fault for the city’s stingy donation record lies with relatives who do not honour the wishes of those who have pledged their eyes before death. To reverse the trend, the Eye Bank Association of India has asked the state government to start a “Hospital Corneal Retrieval Programme”.

According to plans being chalked out, counsellors will be posted at the state’s most-frequented private hospitals and will be given the responsibility of identifying the aged and the seriously ailing to convince them to donate their eyes after death.

“This plan will definitely be an eye-opener for people,” the association’s eastern zone chairman, Samar Basak, said, referring to the proposal that is awaiting clearance from the state government. “Several awareness campaigns have been held in the past, most of them in the city, yet we find that eye donations from the heart of the city has been dismal. We, therefore, must do something concrete.”

Over eight million deaths are recorded in the country every year and moderate estimates put the number of blind persons at 2.5 million.

The number of pairs of eyes that are added to the eye banks’ kitty, however, is nothing compared to these figures.

Last year, the total donations stood at 19,352. The figure, officials of the eye bank association say, is “very meagre” compared to the number of those who wait for corneal transplants that never seem to happen. In the last six years, Bengal has had only 926 cases of corneal grafting, officials say, adding that, ideally, this should be the annual figure.

However, the state’s top leaders have not been found wanting. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu and other Left Front big guns like Subhas Chakraborty, Biman Bose, Anil Biswas, Surjya Kanta Mishra, Nisith Adhikari, Prasanta Chatterjee and Prasanta Sur have all donated their eyes.

Ophthalmologists lament the absence of a central eye bank in the city on the lines of the Institute of Blood Transfusion and Haematology (Central Blood Bank). “There was a project to set up an eye bank but, for reasons unknown, it has not yet taken off,” the head of the department of ophthalmology at the Calcutta National Medical College and Hospital, Jyotirmoy Datta, said.

“I wonder why eye donations have not created any interest among the elite,” he added. “Camps organised in rural areas have always generated a lot of enthusiasm.”

The ambitious programme to convince the city’s residents will kick off with a seminar on September 6. Apart from seminars and help-desks at city hospitals, counsellors will act as liaison officers between ophthalmologists and patients’ relatives throughout the week, say officials.

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