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Monday December 05, 2022

Timely examination can save premature babies from permanent blindness

April 20, 2022

Rawalpindi : Over eighty-five per cent of premature babies who weigh less than 1.5 kilograms at the time of birth have a high risk of developing the disorganised growth of retinal blood vessels, which can cause vision problems including permanent blindness.

Babies born prematurely, before 266 days, have many obstacles to overcome in their first fragile weeks, one of which is eye development that can be resolved through screening and surgical procedures to help avoid serious eyesight problems like vision impairment and blindness.

Chief Consultant and Head of Retina Department at Al-Shifa Eye Hospital Dr Nadeem Qureshi said this while talking to the media persons. He said that the blood vessels of the retina develop three months after conception and complete their growth at the time of normal delivery. If an infant is born prematurely, eye development can be disrupted, as the smaller a baby is at birth, the more likely that baby is to develop difficulties, he said.

Using excess oxygen to treat premature babies in the hospitals stimulates abnormal vessel growth in the eyes, with the smallest and sickest having the highest risk of devastating effects of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), he said.

He added that studies have shown that keeping the oxygen saturation at a lower level from birth can reduce the rate of advanced ROP, a blinding eye disorder.

All parents must include a vision screening in their list of baby check-ups between six and twelve months of age as every premature infant deserves the constant attention of an ophthalmologist because of his or her increased risk for eye misalignment, amblyopia, and the need for glasses to develop normal vision.

Dr Qureshi said that Al-Shifa Eye hospital has already signed MoUs with Fauji Foundation Hospital, Combined Military Hospital, and Benazir Bhutto Hospital to treat newborns with vision complications.

Al-Shifa Eye Hospital is the only facility in the SAARC region and among few in the world having the latest equipment and excellent skills to treat newborns having vision complications, he claimed. So far, the trust has treated around 6000 infants in the last seven years and the number is bound to increase as the awareness grows, he said.

He added that we are here to provide free guidance to all the state-owned and private healthcare facilities, including those in other countries, to help save thousands from plunging into darkness for life. The Retina Department of Al-Shifa Hospital has 12 surgeons, assisted by trainees, and it performs Retinal OPD, lasers, injections and surgery every day of the week, said Dr Qureshi.

Average OPD at the Retina Department is 215 patients per day, average lasers are 35 per day, average injections are 50 per day and on average 25 surgeries are conducted daily, he added. A retinal surgery costs around Rs95 thousand, but 75 per cent of patients are treated free of cost, he said.

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