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GUWAHATI: Cornea transplantation as well as retrieval in Assam has been hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic with some hospitals stopping such procedures while many others reducing such operations over fears of infection. The development has raised the chances of more blindness cases in the State.
Cornea is the clear, dome-shaped surface covering the iris that helps protect the eyes from dust, germs, and foreign particles. A corneal transplant, or keratoplasty, is a surgical procedure that replaces a damaged or diseased cornea with healthy tissue from a donor. After cataract, corneal blindness is the most common form of blindness in the country.
Even though Assam sees around 200 to 300 corneal donations annually (the figure is much more lower than the neighbouring States of West Bengal and Odisha), the COVID-19 pandemic has brought down the number to less than 5 per cent as the majority of government and private hospitals have either stopped corneal retrieval and transplantation or reduced the number of such procedures over fears of infection.
"There is a risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through conjunctiva of the eye; and thus many hospitals have stopped conducting corneal transplants. Since it is not possible to do RT-PCR test on a dead body and get the result within six hours of death, the cornea-retrieval procedures from dead persons (who pledged to donate their eyes) have been severely hit," said a doctor at the Regional Institute of Ophthalmology at Gauhati Medical College & Hospital.
Eyes from a body have to be retrieved within six hours after the person's death. The removed eyes should be implanted within the next 24 hours, or stored at an eye bank, where it could be preserved for up to 14 days only. Many harvested eyes are rendered useless as they are declared unfit for transplant
"Family members of several deceased persons during the last few months had wished to donate the cornea from the dead bodies. Since we can't do RT-PCR test, we are rejecting several possible donors to avoid infections. We are mostly taking cornea of those who died in accidents or those who committed suicide. The harvested cornea is also being kept for two days before it is grafted," the doctor said.
The doctor further stated that a large number of patients who were in queue to get their corneas transplanted, have now little option but to wait till the COVID-19 curve flattens. He warned that unless the pandemic is over at an early date there is a high possibility on rise in the number of blindness cases.
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