In death, Sandalwood superstar Puneeth Rajkumar has inspired his legion of fans to take up a noble cause: donation of eyes. Ever since his death last week, there is a rush at hospitals and eye banks with citizens signing up to donate their eyes. The fact that the actor has given sight to four people has further motivated socially conscious citizens to pledge their eyes. Like his father, Dr Rajkumar, who was one of the early campaigners for eye donation and even has an eye bank named after him, Puneeth has turned into a catalyst for change, and could help bridge the demand-supply gap, as thousands await their turn for corneal transplants and surgeries. Tragically, a couple of his fans pledged their eyes before ending their lives. By and large, India has not been a giving nation in matters of organ donation, curtailed by traditions and beliefs. To worsen matters, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit donation of organs, given the high level of suspicion about the cause of death. Doctors say there is a 70% to 80% drop in the number of people pledging their eyes and organs, only making the wait list of needy patients longer. Jeevasarthakathe, which oversees organ transplants in Karnataka, reported only double-digit donations in the two Covid years.
Yet, of late, nodal agencies for organ donation report a growing awareness that has spread even to rural parts of the country, especially in Karnataka. There is a heartening change, no doubt influenced by social media and celebrities’ endorsements. More needs to be done to raise awareness levels on the process of donation, right from signing up to ensuring that organs are harvested in the stipulated time slot after death. Often, grieving families raise objections and need to be counselled in the delicate period following the death of a loved one. These days, celebrities play a leading role in furthering such a cause. The National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation has reported pledges for donation running into lakhs after Bollywood gave the initiative a huge impetus. Likewise, Sandalwood should also sign up for it, following in the footsteps of late Sanchari Vijay and the Rajkumar family. Power Star Puneeth certainly used his power for an important cause, and mass reverence for the first family of Kannada cinema can be fruitfully channelised.