IMPACT OF THE ACT ON CORNEA DONATION IN NIGERIA
The Act, designed to provide a legal basis for the removal of the cornea of a deceased who has willingly donated same to the Cornea bank, has regrettably not had much impact on cornea donation in Nigeria. Although it is agreed by medical experts and ophthalmologists that the statistics of people living with Cornea blindness in Nigeria is high and same can be corrected through a surgical procedure known as corneal grafting, the lack of awareness as well as the belief system prevalent among Nigerians has made corneal grafting rather difficult in spite of the fact that a lawful basis exists for the procedure.
Speaking at the 47th Annual Conference of the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria, themed “Improving Access to Quality Eye Care” and sub-themed “Sustainable School Eye Health Corneal Donation and Eye Banking” the President of the Society, Dr Abiola Oyeleye, while discussing the reluctance of Nigerians to donate their corneas based on ‘traditional and cultural reasons’ stated as follows:
“We have a cornea bank in Nigeria that has been established for about 30 years, yet it is the only bank that is empty, so we need to encourage people to donate their corneas upon their death or that of their relatives…
“What we are trying to do is be able to preach the gospel (of cornea donation) and stop winking in the dark. We need to be able to wink where people will see us…
“We have to make people who have benefited from cornea donation visible, and we need to let people know that cornea donation has nothing to do with reincarnation; this would encourage people to want to donate willingly. If you donate your cornea, it can give at least two people who are blind their vision back.”
It was also observed that because of the lack of corneas in the bank, Nigerians have resorted to procuring same from outside the country which makes it costly owing to the expiration period of same, as it needs preservation before use. Moreover, the sourcing of cornea from abroad has also been facilitated by some stakeholders in order to convince the Nigerian public of the viability of cornea donation but same has not had much impact. Furthermore, Nigeria’s eye bank faces several other challenges such as space, shortage of staff, non-registration of an eye bank with the relevant association, non-notification of the eye bank on the death of potential donors, etc.
There has thus been a call for increased awareness of the success rate of corneal grafting in restoring sight of persons affected by corneal blindness, in order to occasion a mindset shift for Nigeria, provision of the necessary facilities for the practice of corneal grafting in Nigeria, increased public-private partnership in fostering cornea donation, etc.