By Adebisi Tijani
â€œBeauty,â€ goes a popular saying, â€œis in the eye of the beholder.â€ But then, what happens when one has no eyes to behold it, whether a winsome woman or a wonderful work of nature or fine art?
Such humanitarian challenge has been tasking the collective conscience and consciousness of members of the Eye Bank for Restoring Sight Nigeria (EBRSN) for the past nine years.
EBRSN is a not-for-profit non-governmental organisation totally committed to helping to restore sight to the teeming hundreds of thousands of blind people in the country.
It is being sustained wholly by the Nigerian Society for the Blind and the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria (OSN) and donations from philanthropic citizens. Donations help defray the cost of the NGOâ€™s essential services and research as well as help carry out operations involving sight restoration.
At the public unveiling of the â€˜Eye Bank I See Nowâ€™ poster campaign in Ikeja recently, the organisation took time out to sensitise the general public on the need to offer the blind the opportunity to behold, once more, the diverse beauties of our wonderful world.
The occasion brought together key members of the body, including Dr. Olaseinde Akinsete, the Chairman, Board of Trustees; Dr. Bode Ogundipe, Chairman, Board of Governors; Mrs. Fola Akande of Cardbury who is a member of the Board of Governors; and Dr. Faderin Omotosho, the Medical Director of Eye Bank for Restoring Sight Nigeria.
In her presentation, Mrs. Omotosho noted that 30 per cent of around 1.5 million cases of visually impaired Nigerians fall within the category of cornea blindness.
â€œThe cornea,â€ she explained, â€œis the delicate transparent tissue covering the front of the eye. It is responsible for the control and focus of light into the eyes.
â€œThe cornea could be damaged as a result of disease, injury, trauma, poor nutrition or infection. In such cases, vision is either drastically reduced or lost completely.
Â¨The idea behind establishing an eye bank is to create a storage facility where corneas removed from dead donors, immediately after death, get processed and kept until needed by a surgeon for a sight restoration operation through cornea transplant, Â´Â´ she said.
Dr. Ogundipe said: â€œLike the windscreen of a car, the cornea is the transparent front covering of the eye. When it gets damaged, this results in the loss of sight. Such a case is known as cornea blindness.
â€œAnd just as it is possible for you to replace your carâ€™s damaged windscreen, cornea blindness is also a reversible visual impairment. But then, that is where the challenge of the Eye Bank for Restoring Sight Nigeria stems from. For you need a donor to get a cornea replacement. This is only possible if a donor, before death, had pledged to donate his or her cornea to the Eye Bank. Prior to this, the next of kin or an intimate relative should have been informed about such a philanthropic decision or commitment.â€
Getting Nigerians to pledge donating their corneas to the Eye Bank, upon the incident of death, has remained a problematic issue for decades on end. And the worry to the EBRSN is that, without a donor, purchasing a cornea bears a price tag that ranges between $1,000 and $2,000 (N360,000 â€“ N720,000).
That does not include the cost of the ophthalmic surgery required to carry out the cornea transplant for sight restoration. Such an expensive operation drags the purse toward the million naira mark.
â€œAnd how many blind Nigerians can afford such an expensive sight restoration process?â€ worried Dr. Olaseinde Akinsete, chief visioner and founder of EBRSN.
For a senior citizen passionately committed to the restoration of sight to as many visually impaired people as possible, Dr. Akinsete has proven to be an indefatigable colossus of ophthalmology since the last quarter of the 20th Century. He has been having a running battle to help depopulate the dark and rather lonesome world of the blind.
Since the 1970â€™s, his focus has always been never to turn a blind eye on the pathetic, visionless condition of the hundreds of thousands of blind people in the country.
As a result of his philanthropic activism with regard to sensitising the Nigerian polity on the need to address the contentious issue of reversible blindness, he got a statutory accolade during the military tenure of General Yakubu Gowon as Head of State. This resulted in the promulgation of the Cornea Grafting Decree of 1973.
And such campaigning strategy has been what informed the public unveiling of the â€˜Eye Bank I See Nowâ€™ poster campaign programme which featured Nollywood belle, Mrs. Dakore Egbuson Akande, as the ambassadorial star of the show.
Akande, happily married with children, is an amiable actress with a bent for philanthropy. â€œI am a cornea donor,â€ she declared cheerily. â€œAnd I am proud to be. Donating cornea can in no way precipitate the death of a potential donor. And getting the cornea removed at the point of death can in no way result in any noticeable alteration on the deceasedâ€™s face.â€
Dr. Olaseinde said: â€œThe dead actually, does not need the cornea. And its removal is not even noticeable as a transparent film. Ironically, even when left, the eye tissue melts away within 24 hours after a person has been confirmed dead.
â€œSo it is even more ethically worthwhile to invest the cornea in restoring sight to the living blind, rather than allowing it to serve no positive purpose by rotting or melting away.
â€œRight now, we have, on our waiting list, over 150 people suffering from cornea blindness. For now, we rely on imports from such countries as United States of America, United Kingdom and India. It is usually very embarrassing when associates from those countries enquire as to whether people die in our own country.
â€œI am a donor and that has never diminished my zest for life and the zeal to contribute immensely to making the country or the whole world a better place.â€