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15 Feb 2011
Alleviating Corneal Blindness in Singapore and Asia 

Singapore aims to help reduce the impact of corneal blindness in Asia in partnership with by helping to establish the National Eye Bank of Sri Lanka

The Singapore Eye Bank (SEB) has partnered the National Eye Hospital of Colombo and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health and together they have now set up and operationalised the new National Eye Bank of Sri Lanka (NEBSL).

Sri Lanka, where the large majority are Buddhists, was previously a major provider of corneas throughout Asia. SEB aims to attain international eye banking standards for the new eye bank, and restore Sri Lanka as the major provider of corneas throughout Asian countries. 

The project is funded by a donation from the Lee Foundation via the Asia Cornea Foundation with Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) and the Singapore Eye Bank providing expertise, guidance and directions. The partnership was launched in March May 2010. Temasek Foundation funds the technical training program provided to the staff of NEBSL.  

"Closely modeled after our Singapore Eye Bank, and trained by us, I am pleased to report that NEBSL started operations on 14 January 2011, and to date have had 27 corneas which has surpassed our expectations. We hope this eye bank to ultimately be one of the world’s largest eye banks servicing much of Asia, judging by this encouraging start, as this eye bank has the ultimate potential to provide over 1,000 corneas a year" said Professor Donald Tan, Medical Director SEB and SNEC. Prof Tan is also elected President of the Asia Cornea Society.  

The NEBSL is housed within the National Eye Hospital of Colombo and is located in close proximity to the National Hospital of Sri Lanka. The number of NEBSL’s harvests are in fact, obtained from their Hospital Eye Donation Program (HEDP), closely modified after our HEDP at the Singapore Eye Bank currently supported by 3 major hospitals islandwide including the Singapore General Hospital, Tan Tock Seng and most recently, the Changi General Hospital. At present, NEBSL procures cornea solely from the National Hospital of Sri Lanka and in time, has plans to expand its coverage to Colombo North and Colombo South.  

Prof Tan has now been invited to perform live surgery in Colombo to demonstrate the latest technique of sutureless, keyhole corneal transplant surgery (known as Endothelial Keratoplasty (EK)), and using the licensed Tan EndoGlide technology. "The live surgery will test the concept of donor tissue from NEBSL couriered to Singapore, where we will perform the precutting surgery of the donors, and then the tissue will be couriered back to Sri Lanka for me to do the surgery. If successful, SEB will be the first eye bank in Asia in collaboration with NEBSL to offer this high-tech procedure throughout Asia and this truly epitomizes Singapore-Sri Lanka Eye-Banking Strategic Alliance," Prof Tan pointed out.  

Singapore is now leading the development of the corneal ophthalmic subspecialty in Asia, thus contributing significantly to the alleviation of corneal blindness. This is achieved through pioneering new forms of corneal transplantation and the development of a world-class facility in order to meet the evolving demands of the procedure and by taking on the leadership role among national corneal societies and eye banks in the region. One initiative is the formation of the Association of Eye Banks of Asia (AEBA), of which Prof Donald Tan is President, a supranational network cooperative of Asian eye banks, coordinated in Singapore, to enhance corneal donation and establish shared corneal tissue programs between Asian countries. These initiatives to alleviate corneal blindness in Asia and in Singapore are funded by a generous grant from the Lee Foundation and Temasek Foundation 

This increase in the number of donor corneas available confirms Singapore National Eye Centre as an even bigger corneal transplant centre in the region, further enhancing the offering of SingHealth Transplant. SingHealth Transplant consists of eight programmes covering solid organ and tissues. 

An official opening ceremony of NEBSL will be held next week where the country’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the Guest-of-Honour and it will be attended by their Minister for Health and Permanent Secretary (Health). The SEB and the SNEC thank the Ministry of Health Singapore for the support in putting Singapore on the map of eye banking and corneal transplantation in Asia. 

Press Release by Singapore Eye Bank

Media Contact : Ravi Chandran
Tel : 63228394
E-mail : ravi.chandran@snec.com.sg

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