The Real Story Behind Donor Cornea Wastage

Anyone who is familiar with my work will already be aware of my mission to control corneal blindness by 2030. I formed the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute, in partnership with the LV Prasad Institute in Hyderabad, India, to further this goal — but recently this work has been threatened by a series of new restrictions on Indian eye banks that could render donors’ sacrifices void and result in huge amounts of corneal waste. Allow me to explain what is happening.

In the world today, there are an estimated 4.9 million people who are corneally blind in both eyes, with a corneal transplant the only known cure. The issue is particularly pressing in India — of the country’s 10 million blind people, 1.1 million have corneal blindness.

Since their partnership began, the LV Prasad Institute and the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute have been working together to deliver ground-breaking research into the causes, treatment and prevention of avoidable blindness. The LV Prasad Institute has gone on to improve the vision of almost 60,000 people in India, and recently performed 2000 corneal transplants in a year, breaking the world record.

However, they now face a new hurdle that threatens the continued success of their vital work. Recently the number of donations they receive from eye banks has dropped sharply following a state notification restricting eye banks from transporting excess corneas to other institutions. This measure is part of a series of well intentioned, but deeply misguided, attempt to cut down on cornea wastage. As well as the restriction on movement between facilities, a ban on donations from over 80s is also being considered. As the corneas of those over 80 have often deteriorated beyond the point where they can successfully be used in transplants, an upper age limit is designed to reduce the number of unsuitable corneas and cut down on waste.

What these restrictions fail to take into account is the hugely beneficial part these corneas, even the deteriorated ones, can play in the battle against preventable blindness. The LV Prasad Institute needs donations not just to carry out sight restoration procedures, but also to carry on its research into the causes of such blindness, as well as innovative new ways of tackling it. The groundbreaking nature of the their work cannot be overstated. Recently they have been developing artificial corneal tissues which could be used instead of donor tissue. This would completely transform the way in which we treat corneal blindness, but without further research this and other projects are in jeopardy.

Although the intentions behind the restrictive measures are not to hinder the advancement of medical research, those behind them must be made to realise the hurdles they place on the path to tackling the problem of blindness worldwide. In the meantime, the Tej Kohli Foundation will continue to work towards its goals, proudly in partnership with the excellent work of the LV Prasad Institute.

Read Tej’s latest feature in Forbes