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Corneal transplants to resume at Spencer Eye Hospital after 12 years

By M. Waqar Bhatti
December 20, 2018

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has decided to resume corneal grafting or corneal transplantation at the famous Spencer Eye Hospital in collaboration with the Lions Clubs International Foundation. The transplantation would be free of charge and first such surgical operation is expected to be performed this month.

“The KMC and Lions Clubs International have agreed to resume corneal grafting for which all the expenses of cornea imports would be borne by the Lions Clubs,” said KMC Senior Director Health Dr Birbal Genani while talking to The News on Wednesday. Corneal grafting is a surgical procedure through which diseased or damaged cornea is replaced by donated cornea.

An agreement in this regard was reached between the international foundation and Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar on Tuesday when a delegation of the Lions Clubs, comprising Abu Baker Kareem, Arshad Islam and Abdur Rahman Allana, called on the mayor and offered him to import corneas from Sri Lanka at the foundation’s expense for grafting at Spencer Eye Hospital. Sri Lanka is the biggest supplier of corneas in the world where every fourth citizen signs a declaration in his or her life to donate their corneas for those who need corneal grafting.

According to ophthalmologists (eye specialists), Pakistan and Egypt are biggest recipients of the corneas from Sri Lanka as very few people donate their corneas after death in Islamic countries due to their interpretations of religion and other factors.

KMC officials said Spencer Eye Hospital pioneered corneal transplantation in Karachi and the entire country after it was upgraded into a full-fledged hospital by eminent ophthalmologist and its medical superintendent Dr MH Rizvi.

“Dr MH Rizvi was a close friend of Dr Hudson Silwa of Sri Lanka, who was the founder and president of the International Eye Bank, Tissue Bank, and the Sri Lanka Eye Donation Society. With the help of Dr Silwa, thousands of corneas were sent to Pakistan, which were grafted to people who could not see due to corneal diseases or defects,” Dr Genani maintained.

After remaining operational for several years, the corneal grafting programme at Spencer Eye Hospital discontinued around 12 years ago after the death of Dr Silwa.

“Extraction, preservation and transportation of corneas from Sri Lanka to Pakistan requires money and Sri Lankan donors were not willing to bear this cost after the death of Dr Silwa. Due to this, corneal grafting came to a halt at Spencer Eye Hospital,” the KMC health director said.

Dr Genani added that the Lions Clubs had now assured the mayor that it would initially provide four corneas in a month to the eye hospital for grafting and if the initial programme went successful, more corneas would be imported from Sri Lanka in the months to come.

“At this moment, cornea import from Sri Lanka costs Rs60,000 to 70,000 and this expense would be borne by the Lions Clubs while corneas would be transplanted free of charge at Spencer Eye Hospital,” he said.

The only favour the international foundation had asked in return for bearing cornea import costs was upgrading a ward at the eye hospital and naming if after the Lions Clubs, Dr Genani said, adding that the KMC would not have to spend a single penny on the resumption of corneal grafting at its hospital.

“Thousands of people need corneal grafting in Pakistan as they lose their eyesight because of diseases or accidents in which corneas become defective”, Dr Genani explained. According to him, the resumption of corneal grafting at the hospital would help many of such people be able to see the world again.