The Chinese University of Hong Kong/Shantou University Joint Shantou International Eye Centre Eye Bank (Shantou Eye Bank) has become the first eye bank in mainland China to send representatives to hospitals to promote the idea of voluntary corneal donations. Results have been encouraging during the first few months of the program’s implementation. The first case of voluntary corneal donation was recently recorded, and seven corneal transplant operations have been performed. By actively promoting voluntary corneal donations, the Shantou Eye Bank hopes to play an important role in ushering in a new era in corneal donations.
The Shantou Eye Bank and the Lions Eye Bank of Hong Kong share a common mission of preventing and restoring blindness. The two eye banks have entered a formal agreement to become sister eye banks and to cooperate in a number of areas, such as personnel training, information sharing, technical equipment, persuasion and education. The aim is to achieve self-sufficiency in the collection and provision of corneas. Professor Dennis representing the Shantou Eye Bank and Madam Jessie Ng representing the Lions Eye Bank exchanged agreements at a ceremony was held on March 9, 2003 at the JSIEC.
The JSIEC was established with a generous donation of $70 million from the Li Ka-shing Foundation. Completed in 2002, the JSIEC is an affiliated hospital of Shantou University. At a press conference, Mr. Li Ka-shing, founder of the Foundation, encouraged Shantou citizens to donate their corneas. “The JSIEC needs your support in donating your corneas so that we can help those in need. I am pleased that we have recorded our first donation. That’s a good start. Human life is short but precious, but our contributions to society can have a very a long-lasting effect. I hope that our compatriots can understand that even after we leave the world of the living, many of our organs can be used to save lives or help other people. The significance of our contribution goes far beyond our lifetime.”
Mr. Li once asked Professor Lam, “Blindness is a horrible impediment. I want to do something for the millions of visually impaired people, but what’s the best way to accomplish this?”
With the support the Foundation, Professor Lam took up the task of forming the eye bank as soon as he was appointed Director of the JSIEC and Chairman of the Shantou Eye Bank in the hope that their efforts will bring hope to the millions of visually impaired persons on the mainland.
The Lions Eye Bank of Hong Kong was established in 1962. Its early aims were to promote corneal donations and to serve a collection centre. In the first year of its formation, the Eye Bank did not collect a single corneal donation because the concept of corneal transplants was still new to Hong Kong and because of Chinese society’s traditional resistance to organ donation. From the 1960s to the 1980s, 99% of the Eye Bank’s corneas were imported from Sri Lanka. At the time, it was considered to be a “passive” eye bank. In the 1980s, the Eye Bank began promoting corneal donations, but most corneas were donated posthumously which did not boost the cornea supply significantly. Then in the 1990s, the Eye Bank evolved into an “active” eye bank. Modeling itself after its American counterparts, the Eye Bank sent staff to hospitals to persuade relatives to donate the corneas of the deceased. By 1997, Hong Kong no longer needed to import corneas from Sri Lanka. A 5-year plan was formulated in 2000 to steadily increase the number of corneas collected. It is estimated that the Hong Kong Eye Bank can collect 500 corneas each year and reach self-sufficiency by the end of 2004.
The Hong Kong population consists of over 90% Chinese. Shantou is a coastal city in Guangdong that is heavily influenced by Hong Kong culture. The Shantou Eye Bank hopes to take advantage of this unique cultural background and operate in a manner similar to the Hong Kong Eye Bank to promote voluntary corneal donations. This program may be difficult to implement, but the Shantou Eye Bank will formulate a strategy that is in line with the region’s needs. It is hoped that Shantou will be able to establish the first “self-sufficient” eye bank in China and then recreate similar models elsewhere in China.
09 Mar 2003