#WorldSightDay: Premature babies bear risk of turning blind due to untreated ROP

Doctors underline the fact that lack of screening in premature babies is the reason that many children are turning blind. Experts say, pre-term babies bear the risk of blindness due to untreated Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). Blindness caused by ROP is avoidable, but there's also lack of facilities in rural places.

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Many doctors are underlining the fact that lack of screening in premature babies is the reason that many children are going blind. According to experts, pre-term babies fear the risk of blindness due to untreated Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). Blindness caused by ROP is avoidable, but experts point that lack of preterm screening can make them blind.

A survey, done by a Pune doctor, highlights how families are not told about ROP screening for preterm babies, and how majority of them became blind. Lack of trained doctors and equipped health care centres in rural areas are making children blind. These avoidable blindness cases are not treated in time and are then these families devastated.

Recently, a study of Dr Sucheta Kulkarni, of H V Desai Eye Hospital, Pune, points out that in almost 75 per cent of the children who became blind with ROP, the parents were not informed about the screening options by the doctors. “We studied the cause of blindness in around 66 children who became blind because of ROP. The parents of around 75 per cent of the children said that they were not informed on screening immediately after the child’s birth,” said Dr Kulkarni.

“According to norms, all those who have born before 34 weeks of pregnancy and all those whose weight was less than two kg, should be undertaken for screening. However, neither all paediatricians nor many parents are aware of it. At 15 neonatal care units, we have started a telemedicine facility, with the help of which, paramedical staff sends us the retinal image, and we examine if the child has ROP or not. We have trained around 30 ophthalmologists on ROP screening to date. There is a lack of experts and state-of-the-art facility for screening in rural areas,” she added.

ROP is potentially permanent blinding eye disorders that primarily affects premature infants, i.e., infants born three weeks or more earlier than the due date, and weigh less than two kgs. The survival of premature babies is increasing in India due to the improvements in neonatal intensive care services, and the efforts of all stakeholders, including the Government of India. But still, thousands remain untreated, due to lack of screening facilities or expert treatments.

Dr Sandeep Kadam, a neonatologist, and paediatrician, Pune, said, “Based on current data, it is feared that an epidemic of preventable blindness may occur in developing nations such as India, if strategies for prevention and treatment of ROP are not in place. Increasing awareness about ROP amongst health care providers and the to-be parents is thus important. Assuring a network of personnel and facilities in urban and rural parts of the country is critical, if the impending epidemic of ROP is to be prevented.”