Virtual address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at the inauguration of the 36th National Eye Donation Fortnight Celebrations from Chennai on September 07, 2021.

Chennai | September 7, 2021

“I would like to extend my appreciation to AIIMS, New Delhi and the entire team of   National Eye bank for organizing the 36th National Eye Donation fortnight celebrations and continuing to spread the message of positivity and hope even amidst such challenging times.
I deem it an honor to participate in this important programme.
As you all are aware, corneal blindness is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports estimate that approximately 5% of the world’s population is blind due to corneal diseases alone.
In India, approximately 68 lakh people suffer from corneal blindness in at least one eye; of these, 10 lakh people are visually impaired in both their eyes.
The National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey of 2019 reported that corneal blindness was the leading cause of blindness among patients aged less than 50 years in India, accounting for about 37.5 per cent of the cases. These are grim statistics.
In addition, corneal blindness was the second leading cause of blindness among patients above the age of 50 years.
The plight of lakhs of our fellow countrymen and children who are living with corneal blindness is quite unimaginable.
At present, corneal transplant is the only cure for corneal blindness.
As you all are aware, corneas are obtained from willing donors after their death and transplanted in the eyes of the person suffering from corneal blindness.
However, there is a huge gap between demand of donor tissue and supply.
 It is unfortunate that so many people are suffering from corneal blindness because of lack of donor cornea tissues for transplant.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to increase awareness among people about the importance of eye donation.
Massive multimedia campaigns in local languages have to be launched in every State involving celebrities and icons from different fields.
People should be made aware that the noble act of donating their eyes would enable people with corneal blindness to see the beautiful world by restoring their vision.
If all of us make a pledge to donate our eyes, we can treat the entire backlog of cases waiting for corneal transplant.
This is an achievable goal and we should strive untiringly to accomplish it.
Since 80-90 per cent blindness is avoidable, we need to increase eye care facilities to treat cataract, glaucoma and other ophthalmological problems.
Blindness from glaucoma can be prevented if diagnosed and treated early.
At the same time, there is an urgent need to devise a multi-pronged strategy for strengthening preventive and curative eye care across the country.
No doubt, the Union Government and various State Governments, as also the private sector are working shoulder-to-shoulder to reduce blindness through comprehensive eye care services.
It is important to ensure that these services are available in rural areas, particularly the remote parts of the country.
 The Panchayati Raj Institutions, urban local bodies and NGOs must be involved in augmenting the efforts of the Government to provide comprehensive eye care services to people in the rural areas.
Large segments of the rural population are deprived of quality eye care. Many people living in rural areas cannot afford the high cost treatments available at private hospitals.
Therefore, we must equip our public sector eye care hospitals with latest technologies to provide quality treatment.
The fact that the ‘National Programme for Control of Blindness & Visual Impairment’ aims at prevention and treatment of visual impairment through provision of comprehensive universal eye-care services and quality service delivery, is indeed commendable.
I am told that the National Eye Bank at RP Centre, AIIMS was established in 1965 with the aim to promote awareness on eye donation, collect donor eyes, perform transplant surgeries and promote research.
A structured eye-banking system is important to bridge the gap between demand for donor tissues and supply by promoting awareness, facilitating generation of donor tissues and ensuring their equitable distribution.
 I am told that over the last 56 years, the national eye bank has collected more than 31,000 corneas and performed over 20,000 corneal transplant surgeries.
The national eye bank has consistently performed more than 1000 surgeries per year for over 4 years preceding the COVID pandemic.
The team at the national eye bank has been doing a praiseworthy job by empowering thousands of people affected with corneal blindness with the gift of vision, over the last five decades.
My best wishes to the team at national eye bank for its noble endeavour in restoring vision to thousands of people.
Dear sisters and brothers,
It is no secret that eye ailment is a problem among young children.
There used to be an impression that perhaps the urban school children are more prone to eye ailments. But now even in rural schools, we find some children suffering from myopia.
Excessive exposure of children to video games, mobiles, computers, televisions has been adversely impacting their eye health.
Hence, there is a pressing need to regulate children’s usage of digital devices to prevent the adverse effects of excessive use of technology.
In recent months, I have been stressing on the fact that growing gadget addiction among children is an issue of concern which needs to be addressed with urgency.
Today, the whole world is grappling with successive waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Globally, all countries are striving to contain the local spread and community transmission of the infection and the healthcare infrastructure everywhere has been overwhelmed while battling this novel infection.
 India has done a tremendous job in containing the pandemic despite its huge population and limited resources.
 However, a lot of routine non-emergency medical activities have borne the brunt of this pandemic and the eye-banking system too has been one of its victims.
I am told that the eye-banking guidelines of various countries, including India, advised temporary suspension of donor cornea retrieval and elective corneal transplantation surgeries when active lockdown measures were implemented.
This, I believe, has led to almost negligible cornea retrieval during national and state-imposed lockdowns, with nearly 52% fall in corneal transplant surgeries and 63% fall in donor collection all over India.
As our knowledge about this novel virus increases, some experts are of the view that it is highly unlikely for the virus to be transmitted via donor corneas.
 In our country, eye banking activities have been resumed in non-COVID hospitals via the Hospital Cornea Retrieval Programme.
However, I am told that the restrictions placed on corneal retrieval due to the pandemic have led to a dearth of tissues required for corneal transplantation.
 This has led to further widening the gap between demand and supply of the donor tissues and increased the backlog.
In order to tide over the current crisis in tissue availability, innovative measures such as long-term preservation of tissues and use of alternative surgical procedures which do not require donor tissue have to be considered.
 As our understanding of COVID-19 improves, we may need to modify the guidelines regarding eye-banking and tissue retrieval, so as to adapt to the continually changing challenges and requirements.
It is expected that the resumption of elective surgeries will lead to a further surge in the demand for corneal tissues.
Thus, in trying times such as these, we need to further intensify our efforts to bridge this gap between the availability of corneal tissue and its actual requirement.
Dear sisters and brothers,
Ours is a country that believes in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. Let us remember that ‘Share and care’ is at the core of Indian philosophy.
Ours is a culture where kings and sages like Shibi and Dadhichi had donated their bodies. These examples are built around the core values, ideals and Samskaras of our society.
We have to redefine these values and narratives in a modern context to inspire people and promote organ donation.
By donating an organ one not only helps a person to lead a more fulfilling life, but sets an example for others to work towards the larger good of society.
Due to myths and false beliefs, many people are not coming forward to donate the eyes of their deceased family members.
It is therefore, imperative to dispel such beliefs and create awareness on the importance of eye donation.
Let us donate the “Gift of vision” to our fellow human beings, who are in need of it. What better way to live  even after you die than by donating your eyes!
I would like to request each and every person present here to not only pledge to donate his or her eyes but also to spread awareness about this noble cause to give the gift of sight.
I would like to end my speech with the message—donate your eyes and “Make your eyes live after death.
Jai Hind!”