At least 30 per cent of pre-term (those born before nine months) and underweight babies are at a high risk of developing blindness.
Year long statistics from the ophthalmology department at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) suggest that 30-40 per cent of pre-term infants develop retinopathy of prematurity, with close to seven per cent of children becoming blind.
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is a blinding disorder which, if left untreated, can lead to a total blindness, warn ophthalmologists.
“Blinding is very much preventable provided the disease is detected in time. The biggest problem in our country is lack of awareness and insufficient medical care,” said Dr Rajvardhan Azad, chief vitreo-retina services at ophthalmology department at AIIMS.
A lot of cases which come to AIIMS are in very advanced condition, where the task to restore vision becomes very challenging.
Dr Azad worries that the biggest problem in the changing times where one in two newborns is a premature delivery case is complete lack of ignorance about the disease.
“Most mothers don't even think that their pre-term baby could be suffering from ROP. In good set-ups the cases are referred to the ophthalmologist by the gynecologists themselves but in cases of poor infrastructure these problems are ignored,” Dr Azad added.
This leads to several unexplained cases of blinding, a practice more common among the poor. “This certainly does not mean that the privileged aren’t at risk, as a lot of rich working women also deliver pre-term babies,” he said.
To avoid any vision complications three rounds of screening are a must, advise experts.
“The first should be initiated at 32 weeks gestational age, which is the time of conception or four weeks after birth, which ever is earlier. As ROP develops at this stage and can be seen clinically,” Dr Azad said.
He also advises second screening at 35-37 weeks gestational age, when blinding ROP is clearly evident. The final screening, he says, is essential at 39-42 weeks when ROP begins to regress.