SA cornea do­na­tion short­age af­fects thou­sands

The Sunday Independent - - HEALTH -

A GROSS short­age of cornea do­na­tions in the coun­try has re­vealed the plight of thou­sands of peo­ple who are on the verge of blind­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to a new study pub­lished in the SA Med­i­cal Jour­nal this month, South Africa is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a de­cline in cornea do­na­tions and, for the past 15 years, it recorded a col­lapse of up to 85% – which is threat­en­ing fu­ture cornea trans­plants in the coun­try.

The study, by re­searchers from UCT, Red Cross Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal and Groote Schuur Hospi­tal, sug­gests a cornea trans­plant or lamel­lar ker­ato­plasty can re­store, or sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove, the vi­sion of those with de­te­ri­o­rat­ing eye­sight. Ker­ato­plasty is a sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure whereby a dis­eased cornea is re­moved and re­placed with donor corneal graft tis­sue.

Corneal disease is the cause of vi­sion loss in 11% of blind or se­verely vis­ually im­paired chil­dren and 4% of blind adults in South Africa.

“In SA clin­i­cal prac­tice, there is a ma­jor short­age of corneal graft tis­sue avail­able to both the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors.

“Oph­thal­mol­o­gists in the pri­vate sec­tor have, to a large ex­tent, com­pen­sated for this de­mand-sup­ply in­equity by im­port­ing donor corneas from coun­tries such as the US, where lo­cal sup­ply of corneal tis­sue far ex­ceeds de­mand.

“For the vast ma­jor­ity of South Africans, how­ever, the cost of these im­ported corneas (R20 000 to R25 000 per graft) makes them un­af­ford­able,” the re­searchers noted.

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