By Sade Oguntola
MEDICAL Director, Eye Bank for Restoring Sights, Nigeria (EBRSN), Dr. Mosunmade Faderin says cornea blindness, the fourth most commonest cause of blindness due to diseases of the cornea, can be reversed through cornea grafting and Nigerians should embrace cornea donation and transplant.
Dr. Faderin, who spoke at an EBRSN’s webinar with the theme “Navigating Through the Challenges of Building Eye Bank in a Depressed Economy”, said although cornea transplantation to correct blindness has at least a 99 per cent success rate, the average Nigerian does not believe that cornea blindness can be reversed.
Faderin, who is an ophthalmologist, said the notion that individuals with cornea blindness cannot have their sight restored through cornea transplant was because donation of tissues and organs is alien in many cultures and removing anything from a dead body or donating such is taken as a taboo.
According to her, “sometime in 2008, Seeing is Believing Initiative sourcing cornea from abroad facilitated cornea grafting so that the generality of Nigerians can see and be convinced that people with cornea blindness can regain their sight through cornea grafts. We hope to continue until Nigeria becomes self-sustainable as regards donating and harvesting corneas.
“The eye bank has facilitated more than 89 cornea grafts on patients; the youngest was about three and a half and the oldest 72 years. Unlike other organ transplants, donor corneas are only removed after the death of the donor at most 18 hours after death and before embalmment. It does not disturb the loved ones from saying goodbye to their loved one or affect burial arrangements.
“By becoming a cornea donor, even at death, the donor will be given someone a new lease of life, that is sight. Anyone can be a donor, including individuals with cataracts, glaucoma, hypertension, diabetes and that wear glasses. And age does not prevent from being a donor.”
Dr. Bade Ogundipe, a cornea transplant expert stated that although cornea transplant is legally backed by cornea graft law /decree No 23 of 1973, Nigeria’s eye bank is faced with many challenges, including space, staffing, non-registration of the bank with an eye bank association and potential donors dying without any notification to the bank.
Ogundipe said that Nigeria’s peculiarities require that cornea be retrieved at home since a lot of people die at home and this is backed by appropriate law to ensure retrieval of the cornea is not seen by people as stealing.
Medical Director, Pakistan Eye Bank Society Karachi, Dr. Wasiq Qazi said religion and cultural beliefs should not be a reason for abstaining from cornea donation because the face of the dead person will not be disfigured rather only the clear front part of the eye that helps focus light is removed.
He said cornea removal takes less than 20 minutes, it is given freely, the donors are not paid for doing it and donors are ascertained to be free of infections like HIV, TB and syphilis.