What is a cornea transplant?
The cornea is the transparent outer part of the eye and is extremely important for focusing the light that enters the eye to allow the person to see. It can become badly misshapen or cloudy due to disease, injury, or other factors. In extreme cases, it must be removed and replaced in a procedure known as a cornea transplant. Usually the new cornea comes from a deceased donor, but sometimes a synthetic cornea is used.
What countries are the most popular destinations for this procedure?
India, Turkey, Thailand, Costa Rica, and others.
What is the range of prices (per eye)?
In the U.S. a patient can expect to pay more than $17,000 for a cornea transplant,
$3,000 to $10,000 in Costa Rica,
$7,000 in Turkey,
$3,600 in Thailand,
$3,000 in India.
What are the common complications if the procedure is performed abroad?
Even when performed under ideal conditions, serious complications can occur from a cornea transplant. Since it involves the transplantation of living donor tissue, rejection is always a risk, and it can happen any time, even after years or decades have passed. Other risks include infection and the improper attachment or placement of the new cornea.
However, all of the above problems can be more common and more serious if the surgery took
place in a less than ideal location, such as an overseas facility that lacks international
accreditation or fails to meet accepted standards of hygiene, modernity, or professionalism. This is particularly true due to the need for human donors and proper matching to avoid rejection. It is critical that standard procedures be followed.
Furthermore, the commercial nature of medical tourism is especially problematic in this case. Cornea transplants are somewhat of a legal gray area due to the international ban on organ trafficking and transplant tourism. Corneas are not organs; they are tissues, but they still require a human donor. The possibility of unethical and illegal procedures is higher than with other forms of medical tourism, and extra caution is recommended.
Horror story in the news
A truly nightmarish story from 2013 highlighted the awful underworld of organ trafficking in China. A six-year-old boy was playing outside when he was viciously assaulted, having both of his eyes gouged out. The eyes were later found discarded with the corneas removed. It is assumed the corneas found their way onto the black market. The child has been left blind for life.