Help in sight for visually impaired

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pretoria - At least 100 visually impaired South Africans will get a new lease on life following a donation of 100 corneas by the Sri Lankan Eye Donation Society on Wednesday.

The donation is a culmination of a partnership between the High Commission of Sri Lanka, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the Pretoria Eye Bank.

The beneficiaries will include young children - some who are believed to have dropped out of school as a result of cornea disease.

According to Dr Eduard Sevenster, an Ophthalmologist from the Pretoria Eye Bank, an estimated 5000 South Africans were in need of corneas and 3000 cannot complete their schooling while suffering from treatable corneal blindness. It can cost anything from R20 000 to have a cornea operation.

"As you can imagine, this situation represents a serious social and financial burden for these families," said Dr Sevenster.

He said the four eye banks in South Africa were currently processing about 500 applications a year. Sevenster said the country currently faces a huge shortage of corneas and with the Srilankan donation, more people would be able to benefit. The success rate ranged from 80/90 percent while some recipient bodies would reject the procedure.

Venasshree Coopoosammy, one of the beneficiaries of the cornea donation, recalled how devastated she was when she was told that not even glasses would help her see again. As Coopoosammy later realised, she was suffering from a corneal type of blindness.

"I had to be on the waiting list for six months for my first cornea and I waited for a year to get a second one and I was very lucky that my body accepted the procedure," she said.

Diseases affecting the cornea are a major cause of blindness worldwide. Corneal blindness is complicated and encompasses a wide variety of infectious and inflammatory eye diseases that cause corneal scarring, which ultimately leads to functional blindness.

In addition, the prevalence of corneal disease varies from country to country and even from one population to another.