The Santa Lucia International Eye Bank of Manila (SLIEB) or simply the “Eye Bank” is celebrating its 25th anniversary this October 16, 2020. Inaugurated in 1995, the Eye Bank, owned and operated by the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines, changed the landscape of Philippine Ophthalmology by providing an organized and state of the art system of retrieval, processing, evaluation, storage and equitable distribution of transplantable corneal and scleral tissue around the country.
Corneal blindness is among the top 5 causes of visual disability and blindness around the world. The same holds true for the Philippines. What makes this problem very difficult to address is the scarcity of transplantable corneal tissue in most parts of the world, especially in areas in Asia and Africa where the incidence of corneal blindness is highest. The lack of corneal donors is the main limitation.
It is estimated that around 10 million people need corneal transplants worldwide each year. Only around 185,000 are done. In the Philippines we are doing around 500 to 800 transplants a year, depending on the number of corneal donors. Our goal is to do around 1500 a year by the end of 2021.
Eye Banking is a daunting task, and the last 25 years have been anything but dull or easy. The COVID-19 Pandemic also made an already challenging task even more difficult. Yet we have much to celebrate.
In the last 25 years we have retrieved and processed 25,127 corneas and sclera, 17,360 of which passed all safety and quality standards and have been distributed to waiting surgeons and patients around the Philippines. We serve patients from as far north as Cagayan Valley to as far south as Davao, in both private and government hospitals, and from all walks of life.
By March 14, 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 lockdown, the Eye Bank had a network of 4 operational eye tissue retrieval centers in DOH hospitals in Luzon and the Visayas. These centers are located at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, the Dr. Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Research and Medical Center in Cabanatuan City, the Ilocos Training Research and Medical Center, and the Cagayan Valley Medical Center. This is in addition to our retrieval program in Cebu. We inaugurated another retrieval center at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban on March 13, and we were hoping to open another one in Davao towards the year end. Through the successful operation of these eye tissue retrieval centers around the country, we had realized part of our vision of institutionalizing cornea and eye donation in the Philippines. From the start of the Eye Bank operations in1995 up to 2017, eye tissue for transplant came mainly from Metro Manila. Save for a local eye bank in Cebu, there was no organized retrieval system outside Metro Manila. The flow of tissue was mainly one way; from Metro manila to the rest of the country. This changed after 2017. And by late 2019 there was a significant growth in the number of tissues retrieved outside Metro Manila. The full support of the DOH- PhilNOS is a vital factor for this major push. And while the COVID-19 pandemic caused a halt in the retrieval of eye tissue for all of the centers for the first 2 months of the lockdown, the eye bank continued supplying tissue for emergency transplants. We found ways.
The last 25 years have brought the eye bank more clarity of vision. We look back at our past triumphs and failures; our leaps and setbacks, with both gratitude and humility. We also see that we need to continue building a network of retrieval centers while pursuing a more aggressive mass educational campaign and improve even more on our technology. Our theme, “20/20@25: Serving through the Eyes of Love”, reflects this clarity of vision. But it also reflects the root of why all this is made possible.
When one thinks of eye banking and corneal transplantation, it is the technical aspect and surgical skill that often come to mind. Not many realize that none of it would be possible without the generous hearts that made the decision to sign donor cards or to donate the corneas or eyes of their loved ones during their time of immeasurable grief.
The eye bank would also not be where it is today without the selfless dedication of those who continuously strive to make corneas available to fill the endless demand. And the eye bank would not have been sustained through the years without partners and advocates whose generous support and friendship have enriched our lives as well as the lives of our countrymen. Everything boils down to heart. Love, actually.
Nobody really knows what the coming years will bring. We can only pray that the Good Lord will continue to guide us, protect us, and prosper the work of our hands; so that we can continue to transform lives through the gift of sight for a long, long time.
Ma. Dominga 'Minguita' B. Padilla, M.D.
Founder, President and CEO
The Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines (EBFP), established on October 16, 1995, is a non-profit, non-government, humanitarian organization that owns and operates a medical eye bank named the Santa Lucia International Eye Bank of Manila (SLIEB). The SLIEB is a state-of-the-art eye, internationally-accredited eye banking facility dedicated to the collection, processing, evaluation, storage and equitable distribution of quality corneal/eye tissues for transplant, research and education. It is committed to its mission of bringing the gift of sight to corneally blind individuals through corneal transplants, regardless of age, gender, race, religion or financial status.
The EBFP is an accredited Non-Profit, Non-government organization member of the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC), and therefore all donations to the EBFP are tax deductible under Philippine Law. The foundation employs highly-skilled and specially-trained individuals such as Registered Nurses (RNs) and Medical Technologists (RMTs) as Eye Bank Technicians and Donor Transplant Coordinators. Registered social workers are also an integral part of the roster of eye bank employees.
To date, the Eye Bank has forged many partnerships to help it fulfill its mission. Among its partners are: the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Department of Health – Philippine Network for Organ Sharing, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, leading medical institutions such as St. Luke’s Medical Center, Makati Medical Center, Philippine General Hospital, leading funeral homes such as Arlington Memorial Chapels and Crematory, Loyola Funeral Homes, Ayala Foundation, ABS-CBN and various organizations in Metro Manila and neighboring regions. In cooperation with these invaluable partners, the Eye Bank is able to help uplift lives all over the country as well as in various parts of the world where corneal blindness is a major problem.