Did you know that most premature babies are at the risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a leading cause of preventable infant blindness?
Come January, premature babies born in the backward districts of north and central Karnataka will be screened for ROP soon after their birth and treated. This will be possible through a public-private-partnership between the Union Health Ministry and the Narayana Nethralaya under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
Boon to rural areas
With childhood wellness, including right to sight, being one of the major components of NRHM, this partnership will be a boon to children in rural areas. “The plan is to screen all premature babies born in rural areas and ensure that their defective vision is treated at the right time,” S. Selva Kumar, State NRHM Mission Director told The Hindu on the eve of World Sight Day.
With the theme for this year's World Sight Day (October 14) being “Countdown to 2020: The Right to Sight,” the Government is keen on expanding the project to other districts. The focus will be on tackling preventable blindness,” he said.
Although ROP can be prevented if diagnosed and treated early, there is a severe paucity of ROP-trained ophthalmologists in the country. Under the partnership, experts from Narayana Nethralaya will train ophthalmologists and technicians to screen rural children and transfer the images to the hospital.
The defect will be diagnosed and if required the children will be brought to Bangalore for further treatment, said K. Bhujang Shetty, Chairman of Narayana Nethralaya.
The hospital has already conducted a pilot project titled Karnataka State Internet Assisted Diagnosis of Retinopathy of Prematurity (KIDROP) in the surrounding districts of Bangalore and Mysore.
Nearly 4,500 babies have been screened and 400 of them have been treated. The hospital has collaborated with i2i TeleSolutions to develop the telemedicine software.
“All babies whose birth weight is less than 2,000 grams (2 kg) will be screened. While the Government will provide staff, vehicles and equipment, we will provide the logistics. There has been some delay in the procurement of equipment. But the project will start in January in the backward districts of northern and central Karnataka,” Dr. Shetty said.
With the main causes of chronic blindness being glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, the State-run Minto Ophthalmic Institute has started a comprehensive programme to screen, detect and treat these two eye diseases among the rural masses. If detected early, these diseases can be managed thereby protecting the infant's vision.
Hospital Medical Superintendent K.S. Sriprakash told The Hindu that this was in tune with the theme for this year's World Sight Day.
“Although we have been conducting eye camps across the State to detect cataract and perform surgeries, we have recently started organising camps for diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Nearly 10,000 have been screened so far and 600 are getting further treatment,” he said.
That apart, the hospital is also regularly conducting school screening programmes to detect vision defects in children.