–possibility of eye-bank still on the cards
Seventy percent of corneal transplant patients who were operated on at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) during the past two years have recovered well.
This is according to Head of the Ophthalmology Department of the GPHC, Dr. Shailendra Sugrim, who revealed that while the majority have recovered well, the other 30 percent haven’t due to (cornea) rejection and surgical complication.
The cornea is the transparent layer forming the front of the eye. Moreover, a corneal transplant is an operation to remove all or part of a damaged cornea and replace it with healthy donor tissue.
While the GPHC was not able to offer this procedure at one point, according to Dr. Sugrim, collaboration with an international organisation – the Subraj Foundation – has allowed this to become a reality.
He revealed that ahead of this strategic partnership, “patients who had suffered cornea disease were referred overseas or had to live with this for the rest of their lives.” According to Dr. Sugrim cornea disease could lead to complete blindness.
With the support of the experts associated with the Foundation, the GPHC has been able to offer the crucial service.
The Subraj Foundation, founded by now deceased United States based philanthropist, Mr. George Subraj, had initially offered its service at the Dr. Balwant Singh Hospital where it was also facilitating kidney transplants.
With the introduction of the corneal transplant at the GPHC, Dr. Sugrim as head of the Ophthalmology Department, worked closely with the visiting Subraj Foundation experts drawn from reputable facilities in the United States. “I worked with them two years ago during which time they had two visits and we did about 24 transplants and I am following up those patients,” Dr. Sugrim disclosed.
Since the death of Mr. George Subraj last November, the Subraj Foundation has not visited Guyana. But according to Dr. Sugrim, the team is expected to return within a month’s time despite the passing of its founder.
And according to the Consultant Ophthalmologist (Dr. Sugrim), GPHC is still looking to embrace the introduction of an eye bank which has been encouraged by the experts of the Subraj Foundation. “The team was pushing for an eye bank here but I would prefer to have somebody trained to specialise in this area before we venture out into that kind of thing,” said Dr. Sugrim during a recent interview with this publication recently.
He said that a junior doctor has already expressed interest to undergo such training. The doctor in question, according to Dr. Sugrim, will be exposed to such training this very year for a four-month period overseas. “When that doctor comes back we will work with the Ministers of Public Health to push for the legislation and work towards getting the eye bank,” Dr. Sugrim asserted.
Once the relevant legislation is in place, it is anticipated that the setting up of an eye bank could be in place within one year. With the legislation in place it will allow for Guyana to harvest, store and by extension, transplant corneas. In fact it is believed that Guyana could extend this service to the Caribbean.
Dr. Sugrim has said, earlier, “We need to set up an area; we need to buy equipment; we need to train people to go out and harvest corneas…and once this gets off the ground, we can supply corneas to other countries so if anybody else wants to send (corneas) they can ship these to us, and then we can make them available for use.”
Another important aspect of the process, he noted, would be to commence a process of advertising for people to become organ donors.
Once a person who is an organ donor becomes deceased, for example by way of a vehicular accident, trained technicians would be dispatched to remove their corneas. This process would have to be conducted within about two or three hours of an individual’s demise, according to Dr. Sugrim.
Ophthalmologist, Dr. Stephen Waller, who has been a part of the visiting corneal transplant team in the past, had emphasized at a Continuing Medical Education (CME) session at the GPHC in 2015 the importance of having an Eye Bank.
At that forum Dr. Waller disclosed that while donation laws and certification are important, Government must also have the “political will” to make such a decision. And in doing so, he is convinced that Government will first have to see the value that could be made available to the citizenry with such a facility.
Dr. Waller is of the firm belief that putting a crucial system as an Eye Bank in place, will not only be a plus for the Guyanese people but he too stressed the possibility of it benefiting the entire Caribbean.
”I think it could be a win-win situation for everybody and yet not cost a lot of money to the Guyanese people…You can get a lot of blind people back on the streets and even working again,” said a confident Dr. Waller.
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