HELPING IN RESTORING THE LIGHT
THE HAVE A HEART FOUNDATION IS COMMITTED TO EXTENDING OUR REACH BEYOND HEART SURGERIES TO ADDRESS CRITICAL HEALTHCARE CHALLENGES. ONE OF THESE CHALLENGES IS THE PREVENTION AND TREATMENT OF RETINOPATHY OF PREMATURITY (ROP), A LEADING CAUSE OF PREVENTABLE INFANT BLINDNESS IN INDIA TODAY.
According to the World Health Organisation, our country witnesses a staggering 3.5 million preterm births each year, constituting 26% of the world's premature population. These infants often face various health challenges, with one of the most significant being Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). ROP is a disorder that affects the developing blood vessels in the retinas of premature newborns, potentially leading to irreversible blindness if left untreated.
ROP primarily affects babies born weighing less than 2000 grams (2 kgs) and before 34 weeks of gestation. In premature infants, the retinas are underdeveloped due to their early arrival, making them susceptible to ROP during the first few weeks of life. To safeguard their vision, these infants should undergo early eye screening.
Low birth weight and prematurity are the leading risk factors for ROP. Other contributing factors include prolonged oxygen requirement, sepsis, respiratory distress, intraventricular hemorrhage, and jaundice. Timely screening and intervention are crucial for preventing vision loss.
The Importance of Early Screening
Unfortunately, ROP often presents no symptoms or visible signs in its initial stages. Therefore, it's essential for parents to have their premature babies screened within the first month of life. Delaying screening until advanced stages can result in permanent vision impairment.
Stages of ROP
ROP severity is categorized into stages, ranging from mild (Stage 1) to advanced (Stage 5). Additionally, there is a more severe form called Aggressive ROP (AROP), which progresses rapidly and requires immediate treatment.
ROP Screening: The goal of ROP screening is early diagnosis and intervention to preserve a premature baby's vision. Guidelines recommend screening all infants born before 34 weeks of gestation and weighing less than 1750 grams, preferably less than 2000 grams, within the first month of life. Specialized retinal cameras are used to capture images of the retina, which are then analyzed and graded by trained technicians and ophthalmologists.
Monitoring After Discharge
Even after leaving the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), premature infants should be monitored for ROP. The disease may not manifest in the first visit and may require subsequent follow-ups based on the retina's condition.
HAHF's Role in ROP Prevention
Have a Heart Foundation (HAHF) has partnered with Narayana Nethralaya (NN) to combat ROP through the KIDROP program (Karnataka Internet Assisted Diagnosis of Retinopathy of Prematurity). This public-private partnership employs retinal cameras and trained personnel to expand ROP screening across multiple cities and hospitals.
Impact of HAHF: HAHF has supported ROP screening in 22 cities, screening 1458 unique babies and performing 103 successful treatments within a 6-month period. The foundation plans to expand its reach to additional cities, aiming to reduce and prevent blindness in premature infants across the nation.
ROP is a significant threat to premature infants' vision. Early screening and intervention are crucial to combat this condition. Have a Heart Foundation's efforts, in collaboration with Narayana Nethralaya, are making strides in preventing blindness in these vulnerable newborns, offering hope for a brighter future.