Hyderabad: In a first in the country, government hospitals in Telangana are now equipped with know-how and infrastructure to take up systematic screening of preterm babies for blindness in Telangana. Thanks to the experience gained while implementing a five-year pilot project (2014-19) to screen and treat infants for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), State health authorities are now set to implement screening of premature babies for eye ailments in all public healthcare institutions. ROP is a blinding disorder that occurs among preterm babies and is entirely preventable if infants are screened within the first 25 days to 30 days of their birth. In India, every year close to 35 lakh babies are preterm, out of which 3.5 lakh need screening for ROP.
The ROP initiative was implemented on a pilot basis in four healthcare institutions, including Niloufer Hospital, Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad and district hospitals of Nalgonda and Sangareddy where Sick Newborn Care Units (SNCUs) are located.
First time in India
Apart from screening, this is for the first time in India that protocols to identify ROP have been framed and established in government hospitals in the State. Earlier, there was no mechanism in place to identify ROPs among preterm babies, which made it difficult for doctors to intervene and treat ROP. “Over the course of five years, we have screened nearly 3,500 babies for ROP in government hospitals in Telangana. Of these, 143 children were identified to have ROP and they were given treatment immediately. Moreover, this is the first time ROPs have been identified in government hospitals and treatment was given,” says Director of Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH)-PHFI GVS Murthy.
Helmed by Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), apart from Telangana, the pilot project on ROP was also implemented in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha. As part of the initiative, 12,807 infants were screened in the four States and 2,281 infants detected to have ROP out of which nearly 454 infants were referred for laser or second opinion, while 383 infants underwent laser procedure for treatment of ROP.
Researchers and doctors from PHFI, Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Union Ministry of Health, Medical and Family Welfare, devised new protocols that are aimed at identifying ROP among infants. “We have implemented these protocols in four government hospitals in TS. We have also added new infrastructure to identify childhood blindness and also trained healthcare workers for screening,” Dr. Murthy said.