Corneal donations in South Africa: A 15-year review
Background. Corneal pathology is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in South Africa (SA). A corneal transplant can restore or significantly improve vision in most cases. However, in SA there is a gross shortage of corneal tissue available to ophthalmologists. Little has been published describing the magnitude of the problem.
Objectives. To describe trends in the number of corneal donors per year in SA, the number of corneal transplants performed each year, the origin of donors, the allocation of corneas to the public or private sector, and the demographics of donors.
Methods. This was a retrospective review of all corneal donations to SA eye banks over the 15-year period 1 January 2002 - 31 December 2016.
Results. There was a progressive year-on-year decline in corneal donors over the study period, from 565 per year in 2002 to 89 in 2016. As a direct result, there has been an 85.5% decrease in the number of corneal transplants performed per year using locally donated corneas, from 1 049 in 2002 to 152 in 2016. Of the donors, 48.8% originated from mortuaries, 39.0% from private hospitals and 12.2% from government hospitals; donors from mortuaries showed the most significant decline over the 15-year period, decreasing by 94.8%. Of donated corneas, 79.3% were allocated to the private sector and 21.7% to the public sector. Males comprised 69.1% of donors, while 77.2% were white, 14.0% coloured, 6.3% black and 2.5% Indian/Asian. Donor age demonstrated a bimodal peak at 25 and 55 years.
Conclusions. The number of corneal donations in SA has declined markedly, causing the burden of corneal disease requiring transplantation to rise steadily. Population groups with a low donor rate may have cultural and other objections to corneal donation, which should be a major focus of future research and initiatives aimed at reversing the current trends.