“India has the largest number of blind children in the world as there are no eye check-ups done. A child’s eyes should be checked within 20-30 days post birth, as the blindness occurs in the course of three months. Although, the government has opened 700 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit’s (NICU) all over the country but none of them has an eye specialist,” said Dr Subhadra Jalali, Director Neha (Newborn Eye Health Alliance), Hyderabad.
According to the survey carried out in the blind schools, if 60 per cent of eye condition in children could have been treated during their birth, preventing them from becoming blind.
Jalali informed, “Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a very serious emergency in newborn babies. In India, when a baby is born, only the babies’s health check-up is done and not eye check-up. An eye check-up is not done as it is not part of the curriculum.”
A child is not born blind. After one month, they get an eye disease which can be diagnosed through a check-up and if it is treated, 90 per cent of the children will get cured.
Jalali said that ,”When we started in 1998, there were few infertility centres, surrogacy centres, the Special Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) centres from where these babies would come. They would come from metro cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi but in last 5 or 6 years the disease has now spread to the districts and rural parts of India.”
She added, “Now we are getting a lot of them from places like Nanded, Parbhani and Bardhawan and the reason for this is, lot of SNCU’s have come up in both the government and private sectors. Either there is no eye screening done in many of the centres or it is done very late.”
Jalali informed that, “Earlier we used to see, one blind baby in a week or a month but now 4 or 5 blind babies come every day to my outpatient clinic (OPD). So in Hyderabad, I make sure that the babies eyes are checked after the birth. We also have a team in place, who help parents get their babies eyes checked.”
Talking about the challenges she said that, “The main problem is to reach this baby within 30 days so that their vision can be saved.”
Jalali who has pledged to eliminate ROP informed, “I would like to see that every child in India who comes to the hospital for delivery gets an appropriate eye check-up done through which the menace of childhood blindness can be eliminated.”