Sri Lanka’s eye-catching cornea donation rates

While other countries struggle to get cornea donation to match demand, Sri Lankan donors export to the world

05 Feb 2016 by Olivia Wannan

The allure of better vision in their next life encourages many Sri Lankans to sign up to donate their organs, including corneas.

One-in-five Sri Lankans have signed up to donate their corneas, according to the country’s Eye Donation Society, in information provided to the BBC.

Still more have pledged to gift their corneas to the Sri Lankan National Eye Bank.

Such high levels of donation means not just Sri Lankans benefit – the country exports corneas to many in Asia in need.

Since launching in 1961, the Eye Donation Society estimates it has donated nearly 54,000 corneas to 57 countries.

The society gifts certificates, which allude to Buddhist teachings with the text “Let the donor have a good rebirth,” to those who pledge their eyes. Buddhists believes acts of giving – known as ‘dana’ – help a person to a better fate when reincarnated.

Such donation numbers contrast with British views, as corneas are the organs UK donors most frequently decide not to donate, NHS Blood and Transplant chief executive, Ian Trenholm, told OT.

One in 10 people on the organ register have indicated they will not donate their eyes. In 2014–15, a total of 5580 corneas were donated – an 11% drop on the previous year.

Mr Trenholm said: “We're hugely grateful to every family who has agreed to donate corneas.

“Patients across the country are in need of corneal transplants to restore their sight and we urge people to consider cornea donation. If you’re finding it hard to decide if you’d want to be a donor, please think about this – how would you feel about cornea donation if someone you loved needed a transplant to save their sight?”

Very few medical conditions preclude some from donating their corneas. Patients with poor vision and require spectacles or contact lenses, or those who have had eye diseases or surgery, can still make a donation to help restore the sight of a person with corneal damage.

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