In the country that accounts for over one-third of the world’s blind population, the Tej Kohli Foundation has committed itself to bringing sight back to its people who suffer from corneal blindness. The cornea is the transparent part of the external coat of the eye covering the pupil and iris. When the cornea becomes damaged due to injury or disease it becomes cloudy and can cause vision loss and/or blindness.
A corneal transplant is needed to correct damage to the cornea and restore sight to the eye. The surgery involves replacement of a scarred or diseased cornea with a new one. The corneas used in the transplant surgery come from donors who are deceased. The cornea from the donor is removed within six hours of death and sent to an eye bank. From there the cornea goes to patients who have been put on a waiting list. One cornea can restore the eyesight of two patients.
According to the National Programme for Control of Blindness and Eye Banks Association of India, during 2012-2013, only 44,806 corneas from donations were collected. Over 170,000 people are completely blind in India. 25,000 to 30,000 people suffering corneal blindness cause that number to rise each and every year. Corneal blindness is, for the most part, totally curable. So, what is the problem?
A lack of awareness is the major problem. A lot of the general population, from whom the corneas would be donated, are not aware of eye donation programs. Founded in 2005 by New Delhi born Tej Kohli, the Tej Kohli Foundation is making great efforts to raise awareness of the need for cornea donations. The foundation covers the costs of all corneal transplants and post-surgery care. Monetary donations are not accepted; however, a lack of donated corneas is hindering the progress of the foundation. The Kohli foundation is at present working with a local NGO and also a local eye institute to assist Indians suffering from corneal blindness to regain their sight.
However, it is not practical to delve into a program as extensive as corneal transplants without seeking ways to prevent the blindness in the first place. So, in addition to funding the corneal transplants, the foundation stresses eye awareness programs. The purpose of these programs is to teach people about their eyes, how to care for them, and the need to provide assistance to their countrymen in need with corneal donations.
Cornea blindness in Indian citizens constitutes a significant health problem. This problem could be drastically reduced if the government, the public and philanthropic organizations were to join together and put their efforts into creating a solution. The first step, as with correcting any problem, is to create an awareness of the problem. The more people are aware of a problem, the more they are able to help correct that problem.