A Story of Sri Lanka’s Unheralded Pride

If you ask any foreigner who visits Sri Lanka to describe Sri Lanka and its people, they all would very uncannily say a few common things; an elaborate praise for Sri Lanka’s natural beauty, awe at Sri Lanka’s proud and exquisite heritage, exaltation after having been exposed to Sri Lanka’s exotic and delectable cuisine – but, most importantly of all – a hearty admiration towards the people of Sri Lanka; specifically – that kind, accommodating and gracious nature which is deep-seated to the nature of a Sri Lankan.

A fact further exemplifies this unique Sri Lankan trait is that Sri Lanka happens to be a leading country in the world when it comes to eye donation. In this article, we explore how Sri Lanka is known around the world for being generous and kind through their practice of donating eyes.

In the year of 1999, two Japanese patients suffering from tropic corneal ulcers, an infection of the corneal tissue in the eye that could result in visual impairment or blindness, were in desperate need of a corneal transplant. They received their donation from the former Sri Lankan president J. R. Jayewardene, whose tissue was split into two; one-half grafted on to the eye of each patient.
Coming from a country that exports 50% of its collected corneas, and displays one of the highest rates of corneal procurement along with USA, Italy and The Netherlands, this story is not unusual [1]. Currently one in every five Sri Lankans have taken the pledge to donate their eyes after death, regardless of caste or creed [2].

Many of the 20 million people donate their eyes upon death for use in providing sight to others

Sri Lanka is the second most active country for corneal donation based on population, making up almost 10% of the world’s donations, only preceded by USA whose populace is 15 times greater [3].

When considering such figures the island’s eye donation rate is quite staggering, where more than 57 countries are recipients, according to the Sri Lankan Eye Donation Society; a legacy left by Dr. Hudson Silva in the 1950s [4].

Several headlines accompany Sri Lanka’s success: ‘The country that supplies eyes’ by BBC [5], ‘Sri Lankans: giving sight to the rest of the world,’ by ThePulse [6], ‘Sri Lanka eye bank gives sight worldwide,’ by Japan Times [7], and many more.

According to the World Health Organization, “approximately 80% of all visual impairment globally is considered avoidable.” Out of 7.5 billion people, 1.3 billion are visually impaired, and out of this number, 36 million people are legally blind. Despite the number of donations, there is still a deficit in the supply of donated eyes. There is only one cornea for every 70 affected eyes in the entire world [8].

Sri Lanka’s one of a kind dynamism towards donation lie within the attitudes of the people and its culture of ritualistic giving. Raised on stories of sacrifice and the giving of one’s body parts, most Sri Lankans are accustomed to and comfortable with the idea of donating organs.

Humans perceive up to 80% of all impressions through sight and is our most dominant sense [9]. Therefore, even the slightest impediment causes severe impairment: affecting a person’s sense of independence, safety, education, self-esteem and enjoyment of their surroundings.

With a worldwide shortage, Sri Lanka is doing its best to satisfy demand for the cornea

The gift of sight not only unlocks another chance at life, but various opportunities that would have been out of reach. Somewhere in this world, an American, African or Pakistani has been reborn from darkness and is seeing the world through a Sri Lankan’s eyes.

Serving global blind community with technology

Global blind and visually impaired community has suffered for long with limited access to technologies such as smart devices. Zone24x7 CEO Llavan Fernando has a lifelong passion to serve this community and had worked early in his career with distinguished researchers and thought leaders in the field such as Dr. James Bliss from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Llavan and a team of engineers at Telesensory Systems in the United States has successfully overcome several limitations with six dot braille system and ultimately paved the way for the eight dot braille system widely used today also securing his first patent.

In 2010, in collaboration with the National Braille Press (NBP) of the United States, Zone24x7 under his guidance started developing a more affordable and capable smart device for blind people. In realizing his vision, Zone24x7 designed the world’s first ever Open Hardware and Software Platform powered by Android for blind people to make smart devices more accessible and affordable.

Braille literacy is considered a key advantage for the global blind community. Unfortunately, devices such as braille note takers are expensive costing about $5,000 each. Llavan’s vison is twofold. He wants to spread braille literacy via a highly capable smart device to create more economic opportunities for this community both locally and globally and also make such devices much less expensive by inviting community participation via an open hardware software platform.

The product is now out for sale at http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/technology/b2g/index.html?id=mWeC5YyF


Image Courtesy: bbc.com

Thenuji Gunathilaka

Associate Trainee Content Writer

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