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    Nepal institute pioneers corneal donation programme

    For Nepalese corneal surgeon Sanduk Ruit, the proximity of his clinic to Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu offered an obvious opportunity, according to the Fred Hollows Foundation.

    At the temple, 800 metres from the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, Hindus gather to mourn before cremating the bodies of their departed relatives on funeral pyres.

    Dr Ruit dreamed of transplanting the corneas from these bodies before their cremation into his patients, the foundation reports. Birth defects, farm accidents, or untreated infections make corneal damage the second most common form of blindness in Nepal, the Foundation reports.

    But “the Hindu community held firmly-entrenched beliefs that to remove any part of a corpse would mean the person would be without that body part in their next life,” according to the Foundation, a sponsor of the hospital.

    More cornea: Updated classification gives order to corneal dystrophy

    Such beliefs have hampered organ donation in some other Hindus as well. The Hindu newspaper reports that health officials have encountered objections in Tamil Nadu, India.

    “The negative attitude towards organ donation is driven by religious beliefs and perceived risks to the donor,” said M A Aleem, neurologist and epileptologist, according to the The Hindu.

    Because of these objections, Tilganga relied instead on donated tissue from western hospitals.

    “We had to fight for scraps," Dr Ruit, the hospital’s medical director, told the Fred Hollows Foundation. It reports that he would ask visiting ophthalmologists from the United States and the United Kingdom to bring corneas left over from large teaching hospitals.

    So Dr Ruit began lobbying the cremator and the Hindu priests at the temple to ask families to donate their relatives’ corneas, the Fred Hollows Foundation reports, explaining the powerful benefit that the donated tissue could have on patients whose sight was impaired.

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    According to the BBC, Dr Ruit may have the mainstream of Hindu belief on his side. Most Hindus take the view that the body of a departed soul is “no more than a machine,” the news agency reports, citing Shaunka Rishi Das of the Oxford Centre for Vaishnava and Hindu Studies.

    “It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable,” the Bhagvad Gita reads, in chapter 2.25. “Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.”

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