‘Babies in ICUs at risk of developing blindness’
KARACHI, March 8: Babies that are born either prematurely or with low birth weight are vulnerable to developing retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a major cause of childhood blindness, which is preventable if it is detected at an early stage.
Babies in intensive care units (ICU) are at a high risk of developing the disease. Parents are, thus, advised to see an eye specialist within four to six weeks of their baby’s discharge from an ICU.
These were some of the important points highlighted during a lecture held as part of the 35th National Ophthalmic Conference and KAROPHTH 2013 which opened on Friday at a local hotel.
The lecture was dedicated to the late Professor Syed Ali Haider, a senior ophthalmologist and editor-in-chief of the Pakistan Journal of Ophthalmology, who was murdered along with his son in Lahore last month.
A number of workshops, scientific sessions and an exhibition of ophthalmic instruments would be held during the three-day conference organised by Opthalmological Society of Pakistan (OSP).
Giving a presentation on ROP and its management, Prof Mohammad Idrees Adhi, former head of the Civil Hospital Karachi eye department, said that ROP was a disease that affected immature blood vessels in the eyes of a premature baby. It could be mild with no visual defects but could lead to retinal detachment and blindness in an aggressive form, he added.
“Blood vessels in the retina begin to develop four months after conception and complete their development at the time of normal birth,” he said while explaining the disease.
“If an infant is born prematurely, eye development can be disrupted. The vessels may stop growing or grow abnormally from the retina into the normally clear gel that fills the back of the eye. The vessels are fragile and can leak, causing bleeding in the eye which may result in scarring and detachment of the retina.”
According to Dr Adhi, ROP is a potentially preventable cause of blindness in children.
“No data is available on the disease’s burden in Pakistan. In a developed country like the US, however, its incidence has been found to be 15.58pc in premature infants. In Tehran, 34.5pc of premature babies suffer from ROP which can help one imagine the level of prevalence of the disease in Pakistan.
“The risk factors for the disease include low gestational age, low birth weight, supplemental oxygen given to the baby during hospital stay, gender (boys are found to be more vulnerable), multiple gestation, phototherapy (the use of light especially ultraviolet light to treat medical conditions) and intraventricular haemorrhage,” he said.
Pointing out factors hampering early detection of the disease, he said that lack of awareness was a major challenge. “Increasing awareness of ROP among health workers and parents is critical in reducing this preventable cause of blindness.
“Fifty per cent cases of ROP can be prevented with improved child health services and screening programmes. Right now, however, ROP screening in infant intensive care units is almost non-existent in Pakistan and often cases are reported at hospitals very late,” he said.
Sharing the findings of his research, he said that a survey was conducted at city’s five major hospitals to see how much the staff was aware of ROP and it was found that 47pc of paramedical staff at these hospitals had never heard of the disease while the level of awareness was lowest (44pc) at the Lady Dufferin Hospital, one of the largest women’s hospital in the country.
At other hospitals, the level of awareness was 96pc (CHK), 79pc (JPMC) and 71pc (the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital), he said.
Earlier, Prof Saleh Memon, the chief guest, declared the conference open and said events like these would help local specialists increase their knowledge.