This in order to restore or improve the sight of persons who are blind or partially blind due to corneal disease or injury.
In previous years, the difficulty had always been that surgeons could not obtain corneas for transplant purposes when needed. Because of the shortage of donor corneas, patients needing corneal transplant operations waited many months or years before corneas became available. Because of these delays, sight was often permanently and irrevocably lost.
The Eye Bank started operations in 1975, and since then over 22 000 donor corneas have been supplied for transplants. Over 90% of all corneal transplant operations successfully restore the corneal recipients's vision. There is no substitute for corneal tissue.
In order to obtain corneal tissue, the Eye Bank staff liaise with mortuary and hospital staff on a daily basis. Eye Bank staff are then able to approach the next of kin of the deceased person, to ask them to consider cornea donation. Families will never be coerced or pressurized into giving consent and the decision of the next of kin will always be respected.
The donor may also have informed their family prior to death of their wishes to donate their corneas. In this instance, it is usually a family member who contacts the Eye Bank and informs them of the death of the donor and their wishes to donate their corneas. Informing your family about your intentions is the best way of ensuring that your wishes of being a donor are carried out.
The "Gift of Sight" is purely that, a gift, and no remuneration is paid to the donor family. The recipient is charged a Service Fee in order to recover procurement costs. Allowance for this is made in the National Health Act, 2003.
On request, the Eye Bank supplies potential donors with an Eye Donor card. This card should be signed and witnessed and carried on your person at all time. It indicates your intent and requests that the Eye Bank be contacted at the time of your death. It is important to note that ideally corneas need to be removed within 12 hours after death.
The Eye Bank would like to encourage all South Africans to consider becoming a donor and thereby give the gift of sight and improve the lives of those who are waiting for a corneal graft. The need for donor corneas is never satisfied as new patients are continuously being added to the waiting list.