By Joseph Kabia
A German university has pledged to help the University of Nairobi develop an eye bank in Kenya.
In an international symposium organized by the Ophthalmology Society of Kenya to mark 40 years of collaboration between the University of Nairobi and the University of Munich, Professor Pliglinger said that future collaboration between Munich and UON will involve development of eye bank in Kenya.
Apart from saving people from going blind the bank will also dismantle the myth that successful eye transplants cannot happen in the region.
Cornea transplant is a crucial correctional surgery aimed at restoring and saving sight of which hundreds are waiting in line to receive in Kenya and other parts of Africa.
Eye banks have become common in some countries like India where most Kenyans with eye problems are travelling for the treatment at prohibitive cost.
“It is sad to see many people lose their sight because of something that could easily be corrected by an eye donation. If Kenyans start donating their eyes upon death, it would be of major help,” said Dr. (Mrs) Prabha choksey, a consultant ophthalmologist at Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi.
Cornea transplant is the replacement of damaged or diseased tissues or organs with healthy ones. In a corneal transplant, the cloudy or warped cornea is replaced with a healthy one. If the new cornea heals without complications, there can be tremendous improvement in vision, according to Dr. Choksey.
According to the ophthalmology society of East Africa, corneal blindness as a result of the malfunction of the cornea, accounts for at least 25 percent blindness in East Africa.
Due to lack of an eye bank in the region, donor tissues for these transplants have been coming from the United States and South Asia.
Keratoconus is a common ailment, which if untreated, eventually leads to blindness. The condition is caused by severe allergic conjunctivitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by foreign bodies invading the eye, for example, dust, pollen, ultraviolet light, pets and too much chlorine as found in the swimming pools.
It occurs predominantly in children and young adults. It is also common in individuals who may suffer from eczema, asthma or hay fever.
The cornea is the front, outermost layer of the eye. Just as a window let’s light into a room, the cornea leads light into the eye. It also focuses the light passing through it to make images clear and sharp.
Dr. Choksey says that before a cornea donation is accepted for use to a needy patient, the doctor has to ensure that it is from a healthy donor.
The donor must not have any communicable disease, including AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases or others transferred through tissues.
The venture is deemed expensive because one machine used to detect the number of cells present in a cornea costs about Sh1.8 million. Normally, the cornea should be obtained within six hours of the donor’s death.
Legal basis for the establishment of the eye bank is in The Human Tissues Act.
The Act’s Chapter 252 2(1) states that if any person, either in writing at any time or orally in the presence of two or more witnesses during his last illness, has expressed a request that his body or any specified part of his body to be used after his death for therapeutic purposes of medical education or research, the person lawfully in possession of his body after his death may, unless he has reason to believe that the request was subsequently withdrawn, authorize the removal from the body of any part or, as the case may be, the specified part, for use in accordance with the request.”
In Africa, it is only in South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia where eye banks are established. It costs Sh. 67,000 to get a cornea from United States of America.