After saving lives, 108 sets out to give vision to blind
Riding strong on their popularity, 108 ambulance services after branching out to cater to emergencies for neo-natal babies, will now help blind people. In the event of a death, relatives can call 108 if they wish to donate the eyes of the deceased.
Tens of thousands of people in the state live with reversible blindness due to shortage of donor eyes even as many prospective eye donors don't know who to call. According to the 108 plan, the call will be diverted to the nearest eye bank, private or government.
A medical team would then go to harvest the eyes. "We will not be using our ambulance for the service. Since the number 108 is already popular, the government requested us to provide the call centre facility for donating eyes," said a source from 108.
The system will start functioning in two months across the state. "We are now in the process of developing the software and identifying eye banks in the city. It will be ready in about 45 days," said the source.
"We are still working out the logistics. We plan to put a system of first-come-first-serve for eye banks if the demand from one area is high," he said. 108's call centre handles around 18,000 calls a day across the state.
Officials say the extra calls will not burden their existing system. "I expect we will get 50 to 100 calls a day," said the source. The idea was mooted by a Bangalore-based non-governmental organisation, Nayana Jyothi.
"The country has around 15 lakh blind people who's vision can be fixed with a corneal implant. Last year, there were 75 lakh cases from which cornea could have been harvested. Though there is a potential to bridge this gap, there is no system in place to channelise resources.
This system, I hope, will do that," said Jayaraman, who founded the NGO. According to data available with the National Programme for Control of Blindness, Tamil Nadu has done well in collecting cornea.
While the target for 2011-12 was 8,500, the state as on May 30 collected 8,796 corneas. Last year, the state collected 11,820 corneas against a target of 8,500. Officials say the target is a generic one and the actual demand is higher.
"We are leading in terms of corneas collected, but there is much work to be done. The quality of tissues is important. Only 50% of corneas collected are useable," said A P Irungavel, medical sociologist and manager for patient education and counselling for the state government.