Corneal transplant has been badly hit due to the lockdown imposed across India in response to the Covid pandemic. Speaking at the 35th National Eye Donation fortnight celebrations at Delhi-AIIMS through virtual conference, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan pointed out that the eye-banking system has been one of its worst victims among the routine non-emergency medical activities that have borne the brunt of this pandemic.
He further said that the eye-banking guidelines of various countries, including India, advised temporary suspension of donor cornea retrieval and elective corneal transplantation surgeries when active lockdown measures were being implemented.
“This led to almost negligible cornea retrieval in April-May with more than 90% fall in corneal transplant surgeries,” informed Dr Vardhan. He reiterated the advice of the medical community that it is highly unlikely for the virus to be transmitted via donor corneas.
According to National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey 2019, which was jointly conducted by AIIMS and Union Health Ministry, corneal blindness was the leading cause of blindness among patients aged less than 50 years in India, accounting for 37.5% of the cases and was the second leading cause of blindness among patients above the age of 50 years, he said.
Corneal blindness is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. World Health Organization (WHO) reports estimate that approximately 5% of the world’s population is blind due to corneal diseases alone. In India, approximately 68 lakh people suffer from corneal blindness in at least one eye; of these, 10 lakh people are blind in both their eyes.