Indian eye-donation campaign goes global

A cornea-donation campaign started by an Indian Catholic priest four years ago has evolved into the world’s largest eye-donation program.

Hundreds of thousands of donors have joined the program across five nations.

On World Sight Day on Oct. 12, tens of thousands of people — including youth, archbishops, bishops, priests and nuns — in 250 cities in the U.S., China, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal took part in a “blind walk” program.

They were blindfolded in order to increase awareness about the importance of eye donation.

Visually impaired people with white canes led the symbolic walks.

Claretian Father George Kannanthanam began the movement in 2013 to promote donations of corneas for transplantation to restore sight.

In the past four years, the movement has spread to hundreds of voluntary organizations, dioceses and religious movements in the five countries.

Some 600 people took part in the blind walk in New Delhi led by 100 visually challenged people.

The program was jointly organized by Delhi Archdiocese, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Holy Family Hospital and the Catholic Health Association of India.

Alphons Kannanthanam, India’s federal tourism minister, asked people to follow the example of neighboring Sri Lanka where after a person’s death the government becomes the custodian of their eyes.

“Why not think of this practice here,” he said.

“In that way we can give many people a chance to see this beautiful world.”

Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, who took part in the blind walk, told that eyes are the greatest gift that can be given to any human being and it costs nothing.

“We have been trying to spread his message to as many people as possible through parishes and other institutions,” he said.

Delhi Archdiocese, based in in the national capital, has adopted 2017 as the Year of Sight to promote eye donations and awareness across all of its parishes and schools.

Father Kannanthanam said India has some 15 million blind people, about 40 percent of the world’s total.

The objective of the blind walk was not only to motivate people to donate their eyes, but also to create “vision ambassadors” to serve as links between families of deceased people and India’s eye bank.

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