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A GROSS shortage of cornea donations in the country has revealed the plight of thousands of people who are on the verge of blindness.
According to a new study published in the SA Medical Journal this month, South Africa is experiencing a decline in cornea donations and, for the past 15 years, it recorded a collapse of up to 85% - which is threatening future cornea transplants in the country.

The study, by researchers from UCT, Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital, suggests a cornea transplant or lamellar keratoplasty can restore, or significantly improve, the vision of those with deteriorating eyesight. Keratoplasty is a surgical procedure whereby a diseased cornea is removed and replaced with donor corneal graft tissue.

Corneal disease is the cause of vision loss in 11% of blind or severely visually impaired children and 4% of blind adults in South Africa.

“In SA clinical practice, there is a major shortage of corneal graft tissue available to both the private and public sectors.

“Ophthalmologists in the private sector have, to a large extent, compensated for this demand-supply inequity by importing donor corneas from countries such as the US, where local supply of corneal tissue far exceeds demand.

“For the vast majority of South Africans, however, the cost of these imported corneas (R20000 to R25000 per graft) makes them unaffordable,” the researchers noted.