Eye bank to fully operate by next year

More than 300 people are waiting for cornea transplant of whom 110 are in immediate need

After remaining non-operational for almost two years, the ophthalmology department at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) is looking at resuming eye bank facilities by coming year.

The cornea specialist at JDWNRH, Dr Nor Tshering, who had been on study leave for the past two years, said that priority to set a full-fledged eye bank is an eye bank manager.

“A proposal for an eye bank manager has already been put up to the human resource committee. Once this is approved, we can think of building additional manpower,” he said.

With only two people manning the eye bank part-time at the moment, Dr Nor Tshering said it is difficult to give full attention to the eye bank. Lack of ophthalmologists at the department leaves little room for technicians to man the eye bank.

“I am just the technical advisor but the eye bank manager will be taking care of all the administrative responsibilities including hiring technicians and creating mass awareness among others,” said Dr Nor Tshering.

He also added that due to lack of awareness on donating organs, not many people have come forward to pledge corneas.

According to data maintained by the ophthalmology department, since October 2015 when the eye bank was started, only 150 have come forward to pledge corneas. “It is so less,” said Dr. Nor Tshering who feels that religious beliefs play a big role in people’s reservation about donating organs.

“There is a need to create more awareness among the Bhutanese,” he said, “also, people need to understand that corneas are extracted only after a person dies.”

Dr Nor Tshering said any person can donate his eyes irrespective of age, sex or social status. “Those who wear glasses have had successful eye surgery and those who suffer from systemic disease can also donate their eyes.”

Another reason for the holdup is that Lamellar flowhood equipment, a kind of working cabinet where the cornea technician prepares tissue under sterile condition is yet to be procured. It is designed to prevent contamination and needs to be set up in a sterile room.

“The procurement order was put up before I left for studies but the equipment has not arrived still. I have been told lack of budget last year deferred it,” he said.

For the eye bank to function 24/7, at least three technicians, an eye bank manager and chief of eye bank are needed.

Over 300 patients are currently waiting for cornea transplant of whom more than 110 are bilaterally blind and in immediate need.

In the past month, eight people have listed for cornea transplant. Of the eight, two are in urgent need.

Currently, in the absence of donors and a fully functional eye bank, JDWNRH uses cornea donated by Tilganga Eye Hospital in Nepal.

“As and when we need to perform cornea transplant, Tilganga Eye Hospital donates two or more corneas depending on the need,” said Dr Nor Tshering, “sometimes when it has spare corneas Tilganga Eye Hospital donates to JDWNRH.”

Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu