Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blind spots

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A Brandon eye doctor says Manitobans should not be waiting almost a year for simple corneal transplant surgery to restore eyesight. A 2010 report backs him up, raising numerous concerns about quality control and surveillance of tissue transplants in Canada.

Damage or disease in the cornea, the tissue covering over the iris and pupil, can result in blindness. Manitoba transplants some 100 corneas a year, with 115 people waiting an average of 10 months. Many more could be done if more tissue were harvested, physicians say. Donations are not the core problem; it is the capacity to harvest and share the supply, and lack of co-ordination among eye banks and transplant programs.

The provinces have their own cornea transplant programs. Without a centralized bank and priority list, tissue does not get widely shared, as it does in organ transplant programs. Manitoba's wait list is largely managed by physicians.

Many provinces belong to the American Eye Bank Association, whose members cannot accept tissue from a non-member. So when Quebec had corneas to spare, no provinces grabbed the offer.

In 2010, Canada's health ministers were given a blueprint to an efficient, safer system. A Canadian Blood Services report found the lack of co-ordination system denies timely transplants of tissue, generally. Further, if a problem is found with a donor, there's no good way to notify the multiple recipients.

Physicians want a national cornea transplant system to co-ordinate and monitor a few processing and storage centres. Yet, no movement toward that model has happened. In the meantime, Brandon ophthalmologist Guillermo Rocha said, Manitoba should ramp up importing corneas from the United States.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald takes comfort that Manitoba compares well among provinces, where waits are longer. She should expect more. Buying more corneas from American eye banks can cut the backlog now. Ultimately, a safer and timely program rests on a central, national system. Ms. Oswald and her counterparts should move toward this now.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2013 A8

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