The Nalanda Medical College and Hospital (NMCH) in the Bihar state capital of Patna inaugurated an eye bank earlier this week.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar inaugurated the facility through virtual means. The facility is to address eye health, an issue that has – like so many others – been overlooked during the COVID-19 pandemic. NMCH is a case in point, given its designation as a hospital dedicated to the care of those affected by COVID-19 – the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or, simply, coronavirus.
That designation is part of the problem at NMCH, as the facility requires authorisation to make the newly-inaugurated eye bank operational. The facility Chief Minister Kumar inaugurated is, to quote Times News Network, an “eye bank and corneal transplant facility…[that] would cater to the needs of a large population of western Patna and Patna city.” The report quotes NMCH superintendent Dr Binod Kumar Singh, who “said there was a decrease in the number of COVID patients in the hospital in recent weeks some new directions, including resumption of treatment of other diseases, was expected from the government.”
Eye health is an important issue in India. As I wrote for Health Issues India last year, on the occasion of World Sight Day, “globally, 2.2 billion people are affected by poor eye health – and one billion of these cases could have been prevented.” In India, Vinod Daniel, chief executive officer and managing director of the not-for-profit trust India Vision Institute (IVI), told Health Issues India at the time that “over sixty million people in India are blind and with some form of vision impairment or the other.”
This is not to say that India has not made progress. As previously reported by Health Issues India
“In India, more than sixty million people experience some form of visual impairment and the country is home to twenty percent of the world’s blind population. However, significant progress has been made in recent years.
“Since the 2006-07 period, total blindness cases have dropped from twelve million to 4.8 million in 2019 according to the National Blindness and Visually Impaired Survey, which screened almost 1.1 lakh people across 24 states…the drop in blindness cases translates to a reduction of more than 47.1 percent, well above the WHO target of a 25 percent reduction. In addition, visual impairment declined by 51.9 percent and moderate to severe visual impairment declined by 52.6 percent. Untreated cataracts were responsible for 66.2 percent of cases of blindness.”
The inauguration of Patna’s eye bank at NMCH highlights that eye health is not being neglected. Nonetheless, we must afford visual impairment – especially in a country like India where it is so prevalent – the attention it warrants. To quote the TNN report, “Dr Rajesh Tiwari, head of the eye department, said the eye bank, once functional, would prepare the list of donors and the patients needing corneal transplant….counsellors of [the] eye department will also visit other hospitals to get donors from among the terminally ill patients admitted there.
“Tiwari said the old operation theatre of the eye department would be used for corneal transplant. The department has experts of corneal transplant. He said the NMCH became the fourth government hospital in the state capital after PMCH [Patna Medical College and Hospital], IGIMS [Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences] and Rajendra Nagar Eye Hospital to have the eye bank facility.”
The report, climactically, quotes Tiwari as saying “soon, we will request organ transplant committee of the state for seeking registration.”