Rwandan scientists plan cornea bank

A technician places test tubes in a machine at Rwanda Forensic Laboratory. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Rwanda is planning to establish a cornea tissue bank.

The cornea is the transparent layer forming the front of the eye. It is said to account for approximately two-thirds of the eye’s total optical power. Once a cornea has lost its transparency, one of the remedies is to carry out a corneal transplant.

Corneas for transplant purposes are mostly acquired through “cornea collection,” a process of surgical removal of the cornea tissue from a deceased person.

Cornea banks, also known as eye banks are institutions responsible for collecting and processing donor corneas as well as distributing them to trained corneal graft surgeons.

In low- and middle-income countries, where the degree of corneal blindness is greatest, the availability of donated corneas is very low.

This is due in large part to the lack of local eye banks.

According to Dr Léon Mutesa, Professor of Human Genetics and Director of Centre for Human Genetics at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences University of Rwanda, plans to establish a cornea tissue bank are being mulled, though there are a number of steps to be undertaken to align the bank with laws and ethics of the country.

Mutesa is one of the Rwandan scientists who provided technical support during the establishment of Rwanda’s state of the art Forensic Laboratory.

“As you have seen, our activities have been expanding every year. This year we are having a new project which is a cornea tissue explant and transplant,” he said.

“We are trying to have cornea tissue banking in Rwanda which will especially benefit those people with cornea problems.”

Mutesa said that they are still in negotiations and discussions with the ministries of Health, and of Justice since such a bank requires special regulations especially due to the fact that it involves human organ donation,

“Hopefully this year or the coming year we should start having this program, training scientists in it, and having our cornea bank.”

He said that the parliament as well will have part in deciding the establishment of the institution.

Asked about how common cornea eye problems are in Rwanda, Mutesa said that there has not been a study done to find out how many people are affected, but he held that ophthalmologists in the country always receive a number of patients with this problem.

Efforts are underway to develop eye banks of optimal standards in many low- and middle-income countries, with countries like India and Philippines making notable progress. Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Kenya are examples where high quality eye banks have been established. However, this is still not enough to meet the need for corneas.

According to World Health Organisation, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some form of vision impairment globally.

With regards to distance vision, 188.5 million people have mild vision impairment, 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment, and 36 million people are blind.

With regards to near vision, 826 million people live with a near vision impairment.

Approximately 80 per cent of all vision impairment globally is considered avoidable

Corneal disorder is one of the prominent causes of vision impairment in the world. However, it comes behind uncorrected refractive errors, cataract, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy as the most leading causes for vision impairment.


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