Eye Bank offers hope for 1.5m blind Nigerians

Former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku,(left); Ambassador, Eye Bank, Mrs. Dakore Akande ; and Chairman, Fund Raising Committee, Eye Bank, Mr. Folusho Phillips at the breakfast fundraiser in Lagos

Former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku,(left); Ambassador, Eye Bank, Mrs. Dakore Akande ; and Chairman, Fund Raising Committee, Eye Bank, Mr. Folusho Phillips at the breakfast fundraiser in Lagos

The Eye Bank for Restoring Sight, Nigeria (EBRSN) has urged Nigerians to cultivate the habit of donating corneas for corrective surgeries among the citizens that are cornea blind.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired and among them are 1.5m Nigerians suffering from diverse forms of blindness.

Chairman, Board of Trustees of the EBRSN, Dr. Olaseinde Akinsete noted that no fewer than 30 per cent of the 1.5m blind Nigerians have cornea related problems.

Akinsete, who said this at a recent Breakfast Fundraiser with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, in Lagos, said that the eye Bank was committed to continuous process of harvesting, processing and preserving corneas for the generality of Nigerians with cornea blindness.

He further said that, though with various challenges, more awareness needs to be created on the activities of the bank, since there is a Cornea Grafting Decree in existence.

He was, however, quick to say that the awareness must be done cautiously without arousing false hopes among the blind and the public, for corneal graft restores sight to only cornea blinded people, not glaucoma, retinopathies or other blindness conditions.

Akinsete in his address regretted that though with about 90 per cent success rate, only 98-cornea transplant have been done since the cornea grafting decree was promulgated in 1973 due to various challenges such as cultural and religious believes.

He added that the challenges had caused the bank to import corneas from other countries, as presently, over 160 cornea-blinded people are on the waiting list.

In contrast, the National Health Service (NHS), United Kingdom, which also relies on human organ donation, performs around 4,000 corneal grafts yearly.

Hence the new study of growing replacement tissue would be a benefit to mankind.Meanwhile, EBRSN Medical Director, Dr. Mosunmade Faderin, explained that unlike other organ transplant where tissue types are sort for, cornea is avascular with no blood vessels – the reason for low rejection rates in cornea transplant.

Akinsete lamented that the cornea is the first part of the body to melt away after death. “It is within 24 hour, therefore, harvesting is timely,” he said.

According to Faderin, to ensure corneas are harvested from healthy people, blood samples are taken to test for possible communicable diseases, and rejected ones are used for research purposes.

Asked on the affordability, she said: “With the situation at hand, it should be between $750,000 and $800,000, because getting cornea imported into the country is cost involved.”Blindness affects millions of people globally and this represents a massive economic burden.

And corneal transplantation has been the gold standard for restoring transparency to many eyes since the first successful transplant in 1905.

But the procedure still relies on organ donation, which is very poor in this part of the world.However, some studies have shown that though corneal grafting are relatively unlikely to trigger immune responses like other transplants, they can be rejected by the body within five years.

In a related development, another group of researchers has developed a new approach to removing congenital cataracts in babies, allowing remaining stem cells to re-grow functional lenses.

The treatment, which has been tested in animals and in a small, human clinical trial, produced much fewer surgical complications than the current method and resulted in regenerated lenses with superior visual function in all 12 of the paediatric cataract patients who received the new surgery.

The scientists reported fewer complications and faster healing among the 12 infants who underwent the new procedure and, after three months, a clear, regenerated biconvex lens in all of the patients’ eyes.

The researchers are looking to expand their work to treating age-related cataracts, which is the leading cause of blindness in the world.

The study further pointed out that current treatment is limited by the age of the patient and related complications.Critics of these have however said these findings are currently falling short of being able to lead to first-in-human trials in the near future, due to costs and safety.

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