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Al-Shifa Trust annually saves 1,500 premature babies from blindness

By Our Correspondent
February 29, 2024
Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital building can be seen. — APP/File
Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital building can be seen. — APP/File

Rawalpindi: The majority of premature newborn babies weighing less than 1.5 kg are at a higher risk of developing retinal blood vessel disorganisation, which can result in visual issues, including lifelong blindness.

According to Dr. Wajid Ali Khan, chief of medical services at Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital, the development of the baby’s eyes is one of the numerous challenges faced in the first few weeks by prematurely born babies that are born before 266 days. He said the issue can be fixed with screening and surgery to help prevent major vision issues in children in the future.

He explained that an infant’s eye development may be affected if delivered prematurely. The retina’s blood vessels start to expand three months after conception and finish at the time of a normal birth. The smallest and sickest are most at risk of developing Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), which is the primary cause of paediatric retinal blindness, he said.

This is because using extra oxygen to treat premature newborns in hospitals promotes aberrant vascular growth in the eyes, and research indicates that the rate of advanced retinopathy can be lowered by maintaining a lower oxygen saturation level. He stressed that to ensure that their premature infant receives the ongoing care of an ophthalmologist due to their increased risk of developing amblyopia, eye misalignment, and the need for glasses to develop normal vision, parents should incorporate a vision screening into their schedule between the ages of six and twelve months.

According to him, every year in Pakistan, over 900,000 kids are delivered prematurely, and 80 percent of them have vision issues. Over 40 highly skilled eye surgeons, including some of the most experienced eye specialists in the paediatric department, work at Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital in Rawalpindi. With the hospital’s current expansion, the paediatric department

can now care for more than 500 OPD newborns per day, he informed.

According to Dr. Wajid Ali Khan, we have MoUs with the administrations of Benazir Bhutto Hospital, Combined Military, and Fuji Foundation hospitals. Under these agreements, we will provide all medical services, including screening and surgery, for newborns babies at the hospitals.

He said that Al-Shifa is one of the few hospitals in the world and the only one in the SAARC region with the most up-to-date equipment and trained medical professionals to treat newborns with ROP. Since March 2013, Al-Shifa has screened and treated newborns, focusing on those under seven months old. In the past ten years, the trust has successfully treated almost 15,000 babies.

He asserted that as awareness rises, the number will inevitably rise, and he said that with the use of teleophthalmology, we are offering free consultation to all state-owned and private health facilities, including those located abroad.