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Eye bank offers hope against blindness

[Ethiopia] Dr Yonas, head of the eye bank.
Dr Yonas Tilahun (irin)

One of Africa’s first ever eye banks has opened in Ethiopia - potentially bringing relief to thousands of blind people in the country.

Medical director Dr Yonas Tilahun told IRIN on Wednesday that the bank will enable simple and affordable operations to help tackle preventable blindness in the country.

“The magnitude of blindness in Ethiopia is enormous,” said Dr Yonas, who qualified as an eye surgeon five years ago after becoming a doctor in 1990. “This means transforming one’s life from darkness to light.”

“Even giving someone sight in one eye can mean changing them from being a burden to be a productive member of society,” he noted.

The scheme is sponsored by ORBIS, an international charity specialising in helping blind people. Funding is expected to last five years.

According to ORBIS, some 900,000 people in Ethiopia are blind but around 80 percent of this blindness could have been prevented or treated.

Dr Yonas said that between 200,000 and 300,000 were cornea-related problems that are easily treatable with a simple one-hour operation.

“Now we have the eye bank we can harvest our own corneas from local donors and use them earlier,” he said. “The earlier you use the cornea the better.”

Patients at the hospital have to pay for the treatment – around US $18 – although the hospital is looking at cutting the cost completely.

The eye bank, inaugurated by President Girma Wolde Giorgis who pledged his own eyes after his death, is based in the government’s teaching hospital Menelik II in Addis Ababa.

Dr Yonas is now urging other Ethiopians to follow the president's lead and pledge their eyes. Donor cards will soon be issued to make pledging easier, he added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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