‘Early diagnosis of retinopathy of prematurity can save 5,000 babies from going blind’

‘Early diagnosis of retinopathy of prematurity can save 5,000 babies from going blind’
Representative imagePixabay
  • ROP is said to be responsible for 20% of childhood blindness.
  • ROP is an eye disease that can occur in babies who are premature or weigh less than three pounds at birth.
  • The reason behind the high incidence of ROP in India is low awareness and lack of ROP-trained ophthalmologists.
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is responsible for 20% of childhood blindness in India, according to Dr Saurabh Choudhry, CEO of ICARE Eye Hospital.

According to him, an early diagnosis of ROP, a potentially blinding disease, can help save around 5,000 children from going blind in India every year. About one in 1,000 children in India is blind.

Unfortunately, the trend is only growing. “Every fifth child who is blind in India can be attributed to ROP, which could have been prevented with timely intervention,” said Dr Choudhry.

What is retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)?

ROP is an eye disease that occurs in babies who are premature (i.e born early) — or weigh less than three pounds at birth. It usually happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina and can cause serious vision problems, later on.

According to reports, mild cases of ROP in babies can get better without treatment. But others need treatment to protect their vision and prevent blindness. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent blindness.


“A premature baby born before 7 months of gestation with very low birth weight (below 1.5 kg) who was admitted in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and received Oxygen therapy is the most vulnerable for developing ROP,” Dr Chaudhary explained.

Around 3.5 million premature babies are born every year in India, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And, only 30,000-40,000 of these babies receive proper medical attention.

Why so many ROP cases in India?

The reason behind a higher incidence of ROP in India is low awareness among people and lack of ROP-trained ophthalmologists and neonatal care pediatricians in India. There are only about 200 ROP specialists in India currently.

“The availability and affordability of services related to the care of premature babies need strengthening, along with improving the quality of neonatal care and expansion of screening and treatment programmes. Increasing awareness, training pediatricians, ophthalmologists and nurses in ROP can save more children from this preventable cause of blindness,” Dr Chaudhary added.

Parents should get their premature born babies checked within 4-6 weeks after the birth for early detection, he suggests.

India facing third epidemic of ROP

India and other middle-income countries in the world are currently facing the third epidemic of ROP due to increased survival of preterm babies, apart from lack of proper care and low screening and treatment.

Dr Chaudahry believes that there is a need to customize ROP screening criteria in India.

“In India, larger and more mature babies are at risk of developing sight-threatening ROP here due to the variation in the standard of neonatal care. As many studies in India found that even more mature and heavier babies developed ROP, the revised guidelines recommend screening all babies with birth weight of up to 2,000 gm or gestational age of up to 34 weeks,” he said.

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