Why are cornea donations so urgently needed in SA?
There is a huge need for cornea donations in South Africa. Why is this, and what are we doing to address it?
The eye is a complex organ, and if just one little part is damaged or stops working, it can affect more than just a patient’s vision. The cornea is the see-through layer that covers the iris and pupil and allows light to enter the eye. Many diseases and conditions can cause corneal damage, which can lead to eye pain, tearing of the cornea and blindness.
Corneal conditions are more common than we think, and they affect people of all ages. In extreme cases, the only way to restore sight is a cornea transplant. Cornea donation can only happen after death if the deceased’s next of kin consent to donation. In South Africa, many patients are waiting for transplantable corneas and the availability far outweighs the need.
A lack of organ and tissue donation awareness, some regulatory and legal restrictions and a lack of donors, have resulted in an 88% decline in transplants using local corneas since the early 2000’s.
This shortage has forced many patients and their eye surgeons to source corneas internationally, which is awfully expensive, and many patients who need corneal transplants are unable to afford the surgery. Additionally, cornea transplants are challenging because eye tissue must be recovered within 12 hours of the donor passing away.
Eye banks and multi-tissue banks manage corneal and scleral tissue retrieval and distribution in South Africa. In the Western Cape, the Eye Bank Foundation of South Africa and Vitanova have teamed up to provide this critical service to patients. Our hope is that cornea donations will increase substantially so that we can assist the rest of South Africa as well. We promote awareness about cornea donation and transplantation, eye care and train medical staff to assist with cornea donation referrals.
Eyecare is critical for everyone. Part of Vitanova’s education drive is to highlight and teach the public about the importance of eye care. Taking care of your eyes is important for your own health, and also gives you the option to gift healthy corneas to someone else at the time of your death, if you choose to become an organ and tissue donor.
There are four easy things you can do to maintain good eye health
Maintaining a healthy
and active lifestyle
Ensuring your hands are clean when touching your eyes and removing your contact lenses when needed
Wearing UV protected sunglasses and protective eyewear when necessary
Avoiding eye strain from blue light screens, and ensuring that you rest your eyes
Sight is such an important sense. Cornea transplants restores eyesight. And being able to see changes lives, making these transplants an extraordinary and life-changing procedure for patients who have no other way of ever seeing again.