Hyderabad: Of 25 million babies born in India, 8 million are premature and at the risk of a number of life-long diseases. One such disease is Retinopathy of Prematurity or ROP, which has, arguably, become one of the chief reasons for childhood blindness.
Dr GVS Murthy, Vice President- South, Public Health Foundation of India, says, “A condition which was not even heard of 30-40 years ago, is now responsible for two-third cases of childhood blindness. Retinopathy of Prematurity is one of the most common causes of blindness in India and many premature babies are at its risk.”
Retinopathy of Prematurity occurs in premature babies and causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina. This can cause the retina to detach from the back of the eye, leading to blindness.
Dr Murthy who is also an ophthalmologist and professor says, “In today’s times, excellent nursing care facilities are available and that helps premature babies to survive better, but at the time of resuscitation after birth, they are exposed to very high concentration of oxygen and their retina peels off.”
However, the doctors say that this condition is treatable. If diagnosed early, premature babies can undergo a simple laser surgery to avoid the risk of blindness in future.
Owing to expensive screening equipment, only a few hospitals in India do the screening for the disease. As part of government’s initiative, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Public Health Foundation of India have tied with some selected hospitals across India where the screening takes place.
Lakshmi was one of the lucky few whose son was diagnosed and treated on time at Niloufer Children’s Hospital where the government’s initiative kick-started.
Lakshmi says, “My child was born during the seventh month of pregnancy. He weighed 600 grams and the doctors asked us to get his eye check-up done. They checked him four times over a period of two months and then suggested a laser treatment. My son is doing fine after the treatment and the doctor has advised us to take him home after a week. He now weighs one kg.”
According to Dr Murthy, a quarter of a million babies born in India are going to be at the risk of Retinopathy of Prematurity. If left un-diagnosed, the premature babies that survive may have to live with blindness.
To help prevention of childhood blindness in India, it is crucial that the diagnosis of a pre-mature baby is made within 48 hours of birth and screening of babies weighing less than 2 kg is made compulsory.