Thousands remain blind as taboos prevent cornea donationM H Maswood
The future of over 5,26,000 people, blinded by disease or injuries suffered by their corneas, remain bleak as a very small number of people in the country are willing to donate their corneas posthumously.
About 11,00,000 people die each year in Bangladesh but only 100-200 corneas – the eye’s outermost layer – are donated.
Posthumous donation of corneas or body organs remains something of a taboo in the society. Experts point to religious taboos and apathy as the main reasons for the shortage of donors – but also blame the government for its failure to launch awareness campaigns.
Abdul Quader, assistant professor of National Institute of Ophthalmology, told New Age that there was a misunderstanding among some religious leaders that disfigurement of the body after death was forbidden by Islam.
Maulna Mizanur Rahma, an imam of Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, told New Age that religious law did not prohibit donation of organs.
‘Modern medical technology has found that many organs live even after death,’ he said. ‘If any one wants his or her organs to survive after their death, religion does not stand in the way.’
Saiful Islam Chowdhury, coordinator of Sandhani International Eye Donation Society, the only eye bank in the capital and amongst only two in the country, said there was a lack of awareness campaigns organised in the country to motivate people to donate corneas after death.
‘In India, most corneas are collected from donors posthumously and the success rate at this type of cornea transplantation is high,’ he said.
‘There is no religious taboo in India about donation of organs. The Hindu-majority Indian people say their bodies are burnt after death, so it is good if some of their organs can live after their death.’
Saiful pointed out that the Indian government used film stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwariya Rai in campaigns to motivate people to donate their corneas after death.
‘Similar initiatives in our country could encourage people to donate corneas,’ Saiful stated.
Abdul Quader, who is also a cornea surgeon, told New Age, ‘If the government took such initiatives and also amended the law to allow corneas to be collected from unidentified bodies, it would be a great step in dealing with the shortage of corneas.’
‘There are about 20,000 people with cornea blindness waiting for a transplant at SIEDS, but the organisation can provide only about 100-150 corneas a year,’ Quader added.
Most of those waiting for a cornea at SIEDS are from poorer section and can hardly afford to take treatment abroad.
Abdul Aziz, a young grocer who lives in Badda in the capital, told New Age how difficult his life was with corneal blindness.
‘You cannot feel the pain of a blind man,’ he said.
Aziz said he had been blind for three years after his cornea was damaged when sand went into his left eye.
‘It is my bad luck (being a blind person), but if someone generous would donate his or her cornea, I might be able to see the world again’, he said.
Sukumar Chandra Sarker, a middle-aged man from Magura, lost his right cornea after a viral attack.
He told New Age that he had been struggling to get a cornea since 1997. ‘I cannot afford to buy a cornea,’ he said.
‘If people donated their cornea after death, blind men like me could get a new life with their organs,’ Sukumar said.
Shish Rahman, a corneal surgeon at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said a cornea needed to be removed within six hours after a person’s death and the operation could be done in only 20 minutes.
‘It causes little or no disfigurement of the eyes due to hi-tech instrument that are now being used,’ he said.
Shish said anyone could be an eye donor on their death.
‘People of any age, even those who use spectacles, or eye surgery patients, or even a diabetic can be an eye donor.’
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