Early diagnosis of Retinopathy of Prematurity can save thousands of premature babies from going blind in India every year

· About 5,000 of babies are estimated to develop severe ROP every year and 2900 surviving with visual impairment in India due to retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding disease of the retina that can occur in babies born premature or with low birth weight of less than 1.5 kgs.
· The condition is entirely treatable with early diagnosis within 4 weeks of birth.

DELHI / April 5, 2024: At 3.5 million, India accounts for the highest number of preterm (premature) births in the world every year. About one in six of these are born at 32 to 36 weeks, or even less, gestational age. These children are at high risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a potentially blinding disease of the retina that can occur in babies born premature with low birth weight. In the absence of early diagnosis and prompt medical care in first few weeks of life, about 30% of newborn in NICU can be affected with ROP and almost 10% of them can go completely blind if they don’t reach eye specialist within 30 days of birth and undergo treatment which is with laser within 2 to 3 days the diagnosis. This was said by Dr. Priyanka Ganvir, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospital, Mulund (West), Mumbai, during the ongoing Prevention of Blindness Week.

Said Dr. Priyanka Ganvir: “The development of eyes and their blood vessels is mostly complete by the time a baby is born full-term. ROP is Vaso proliferative disease affecting the retinal vessels of premature infants. ROP usually develops in both eyes and can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness. An eye checkup done within 4 weeks after birth of a premature baby can identify ROP. However, the lack of standardized screening protocols and their effective implementation, ensuring timely examination within the first 30 days of life, poses a significant challenge. Compounding the issue is the asymptomatic nature of the disease, making external diagnosis is almost impossible as it does not manifest any painful symptoms, redness, or watering until the child reaches three or four months of age and faces blindness. The babies born with a gestational age less than 34 weeks and 34 to 36 weeks with risk factors or those weighing 1.5kg or less are especially susceptible to ROP. About 80% of these cases resolve on their own, but 20% require medical attention. Every preterm baby must be given an eye exam by a ROP-trained ophthalmologist so that immediate medical care can be given.”

ROP is serious blinding emergency. The third epidemic is in India, and this is very dangerous because of the sheer number. In Maharashtra, hundreds of preterm children born every year are at potential risk of blindness or visual impairment due to ROP. In a study of five districts in the state over a 3-year period, about 275 newborn babies were found with ROP and were at risk of going blind.

Dr Priyanka Ganvir added, “Premature delivery, low birth weight, respiratory distress, NICU admissions and prolonged oxygen therapy are important risk factors for ROP. With medical intervention within a few weeks of birth of, this medical condition can be cured, and permanent vision loss can be prevented.”

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