There is no cornea harvesting ring in the Tobago medical system. Unfounded claims that corneas are being illegally harvested in Tobago are misleading and damaging to Tobago’s medical fraternity and system. All cornea-related medical treatments including surgery are conducted to the strictest of international standards by some of the world’s best surgeons right here in Trinidad and Tobago.
Dr. Nathaniel Duke, Medical Chief of Staff at the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) stressed that the island has no technology for harvesting any organs, including corneas, for transplant surgery, as suggested by the Tobago Forwards in recent statements to the media. Those services are not performed in Tobago.
The TRHA maintains that the spurious statements made by the Tobago Forwards were irresponsible and damaging to Tobago. It also discredits the high level ophthalmic care given to the citizens and the professional integrity of the health care professionals on the island.
Corneas for Tobago’s transplants are supplied by International Sight Restoration, based in Tampa, Florida, the only eye bank in the United States that has certified ISO Class 5, 7 and 8 clean rooms, in which the harvesting of corneas is done. The eye bank also supplied 50 countries in the world with corneas.
Contrary to the suggestion that the medical team performing the surgeries locally may have been “incentivised”, Dr. Duke confirmed that the TRHA has paid for none of the nine corneal transplants done in Tobago so far this year by renowned ophthalmological surgeon Dr. Deo Singh, who is certified and recognised by the international eye bank. Dr Singh conducts similar surgeries in Trinidad. For 2015, Tobago has had a 100 per cent success rate on corneal transplants.
Dr Duke said the surgeon, Dr. Deo Singh, out of his humanitarianism, opted to perform the transplants in Tobago rather than sending the patients to Trinidad, and did it for free, which saved the TRHA close to $1million. The TRHA is grateful for the kind gesture from an excellent surgeon, Dr. Duke added.
The TRHA’s ophthalmology team also includes vitreo-retinal surgeon Dr. Rishi Sharma. Dr. Duke said the other members of the Tobago team also benefit from the “high technical knowledge transfer” by Drs. Singh and Sharma.
Dr. Duke explained that there is a stringent process that must be followed in order to have the transplants done in Tobago and anywhere else in the world.
“There are strict requirements with respect to the corneas, which Dr. Deo Singh and his team have taken responsibility for, which includes reporting back to the international eye bank on the outcome of the procedures. Every three months, reports have to be sent to the international eye bank updating them on the patients.”
Prior to 2012, the TRHA outsourced corneal transplants at a cost of $70,000 per eye procedure in Trinidad, a fee that is applied throughout the country. The TRHA also faced a backlog of patients awaiting eye surgery to correct a range of conditions, including cataracts and other complications. Dr. Duke reiterated that the TRHA has no input in sourcing the corneal tissue for transplant patients. This is done according to the international guidelines by which the eye bank operates.
The THRA wants to state explicitly that it has no wish to be drawn into any political agendas of any political entities. The mandate of the Authority is to provide quality medical services to the people of Tobago.
The TRHA remains open to addressing any legitimate concerns that are raised about issues that impact its ability to serve the public.