Newborn Blindness due to Retinopathy of Prematurity: an upcoming epidemic in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand

Newborn Blindness due to Retinopathy of Prematurity: an upcoming epidemic in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand

Patna, December 6, 2014: : Blindness and vision impairment in newborns and young children are on a rapid rise in those parts of India that are rapidly modernising. With development come improved maternal delivery care systems, test tube baby centres and highly sophisticated newborn care units with incubators and ventilators. While improvements in mother and child health are necessary, this development comes with an increased number of premature births. Premature babies are prone to Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), which afflicts the eyes of preterm babies that have typically received specialized neonatal care. Such epidemic has already been seen in big cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai etc and is now creeping into towns and cities of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra etc. LVPEI has worked with partners to enhance ROP programs in Kolkata, Dhanbad, Raipur, Bhilai etc and are now looking forward to working with neonatologists and paediatricians in Bihar and Jharkhand so that blindness can be prevented in the NICU and SNCU here.

In the context of preventing blindness in newborn babies, Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) has emerged as a severe challenge particularly in developing and middle-income group countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, South East Asia, China and India. The World Health Organization (WHO) has underscored the importance of this condition by including ROP as a major target disease in its prevention of blindness program, VISION 2020 - The RIGHT to SIGHT programme to combat needless blindness globally by the year 2020.

In Patna for Neocon 2014, (annual convention of National Neonatology Forum) Dr Subhadra Jalali, Associate Director, Srimati Kanuri Santhamma Centre for vitreo-retinal diseases, and the Jasti V. Ramanamma Children’s Eye Care Centre, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad was invited by Dr. Subhash Prasad, Director of the Divyadrishti Eye Centre to share her expertise in this critical field with eye specialists of the region. Dr. Jalali said, “Our 15 years of sustained efforts in partnership with Indian Neonatologists and many ROP centres in India, helped formulate the National ROP Guidelines in 2010 specific for India. We are an integral part of the Ministry of Health, Govt. of India Task force on ROP and WHO used our expertise to improve ROP blindness programmes under the Philippines Government. All the efforts of various partners in neonatal and childhood care and eye care professionals also helped for the first time to get a mandatory preventive Eye screening status for ROP and congenital cataract in the Rashtriya Bal Swasthaya Karyakram (RBSK) and today we are also on the expert panel of this Government program. The challenge now is to make this program operational and ensure that every newborn in our country gets an eye screening at birth and every premature baby in addition gets a Retina screening for ROP within 20-30 days of birth.”

Dr. Rajvardhan Azad, a renowned Retina surgeon and Ex-Chief of R. P Centre, Delhi was Chairperson of the ROP meeting. Dr. Azad has been a leader of ROP and has worked very hard over many years to teach and train many groups in different parts of India to set up ROP care centres. Highly efficacious, scientifically proven and accessible technology is available to manage ROP in the last two decades. Various multicenter prospective studies have conclusively proven that timely detection and treatment can markedly reduce blindness due to ROP. Yet untreated ROP blindness continues to be a reality. More than 60% of blind children in our blind schools could have had normal vision with timely detection, prompt and appropriate preventive and curative management immediately after birth and in first few years of life.

ROP has become a mission for LVPEI since 1999 and a constant endeavour to translate information available in books and journals to actual implementation at the bedside of the newborn. There are a number of risk factors for newborn eye problems including premature birth, familial disorders, Rubella, Congenital diseases, poor cry at birth, etc that need to be addressed through a health sector-wide multidisciplinary approach and LVPEI has pioneered some such approaches. On completion of 15 years of the ROP screening program, LVPEI re-dedicates its team that includes Dr. Padmaja Rani and Dr. Divya Balakrishnan in Hyderabad, Dr. Tapas Padhi and Dr. Umesh Behera in Bhubaneswar, Dr. Sameera Nayak in Vijayawada and Dr. Virender Sachdeva in Visakhapatnam to further expand the newborn eye screening program to spread its reach to every baby in the hospital/NICU/SNCU across the country to enable them achieve their RIGHT to Sight!

Over the years, LVPEI has created awareness on childhood blindness and this year as part of Newborn Care Week in November and World Prematurity Day Nov 17, LVPEI held couple of events to raise awareness of prematurity and the concerns of preterm babies and their families.   Over the last 15 years, LVPEI team has examined more than 12,000 babies and treated more than 16,000 eyes with state of art lasers and surgeries. The smallest baby treated in the program was 550 grams and smallest baby to undergo major surgery was 1400 grams.

The most recent WHO estimates confirm 80% of all causes of visual impairment are preventable or curable. WHO estimates that in 2010 there were 285 million people visually impaired, of whom 39 million were blind. Provision of effective and accessible eye care services is the key to effectively control visual impairment including blindness. Comprehensive eye care services need to become an integral part of primary health care and health systems development. Eye health also needs to be included in broader non-communicable and communicable disease frameworks.

About L V Prasad Eye Institute
The L V Prasad Eye Institute provides high quality comprehensive eye care to all people; provides sight enhancement and rehabilitation services at the Institute and through its rural eye health network; offers professional ophthalmic training at all levels; and conducts cutting-edge eye care research. The Institute is a World Health Organization (WHO) Centre for the Prevention of Blindness and a Global Resource Centre for VISION 2020, a worldwide initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness led by WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. For further information, visit the Institute’s website,

For further information, please contact:
Dr Sreedevi Yadavalli, Associate Director and Head – Communications
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