Ophthalmologists have identified Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a leading cause of blindness among children in the developed world, as a growing public health concern for Bangladesh.
Speaking at a national workshop on ROP in the capital on Saturday (20 Nov), they said approximately 3.8 million babies are born in Bangladesh each year of whom, 438,000 are born pre-term.
According to them, a large portion of the pre-term babies face the risk of blindness due to ROP.
Directorate General of Health Services’ (DGHS) Director General Prof Dr Abul Bashar Mohammed Khurshid Alam was present at the workshop as the chief guest while Directorate General of Medical Education’s (DGME) Director General Prof AHM Enayet Hussain, also the Chair of IAPB Bangladesh Chapter, presented the keynote paper.
DGHS Director Dr Md Shamsul Haque presided over the session while UNICEF Bangladesh Chief Health Dr Sanjana Bhardwaj, Orbis International Bangladesh Country Director Dr Munir Ahmed, and IRD Global Bangladesh Country Director Dr Tapash Roy joined it as the special guests. Prof Md Saifullah from National Eye Care/NIOH and Prof Nazmun Nahar from Ispahani Islamia Eye Institute and Hospital also joined the workshop.
The NNHP & IMCI Program of DGHS, with support from DGME, IRD Global, Orbis International and UNICEF, organised the workshop to foster multi-sectorial response and create an enabling coordination platform for the prevention of avoidable childhood blindness due to ROP in Bangladesh.
The DGHS director general, in his speech said “ROP is one of the severe problems among premature babies. We’ll try to include ROP in the revised version of Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Plan operation and in the National Eye Care plan in the near future.”
“I believe that the guideline that will be formulated today will prove to be a milestone,” he added.
He advised formulation of the guideline considering the fact that some things might be included and some excluded from it.
He thanked the obstetrics and gynaecology society for being directly involved in the government’s achievement in the health sector.
The keynote presenter while reflecting on IAPB and WHO’s journey of 20 years said, “It was a race against time. We started working on childhood blindness in an organized manner in 2000 by launching Paediatric Ophthalmology Department at the National Institute of Ophthalmology. We started working with two programmes- crash programme and system strengthening.”
He further mentioned, “In 2003 we started a programme where we identified children with childhood blindness at the field level and conducted eye surgery on 25,000 children till 2010. So far we have established 22 paediatric ophthalmology centres across the country. Although we could not reach the 0.5 benchmark set by WHO, childhood blindness in the country came down to 0.6 in 2017 from 0.8 in 2003.”
He emphasized on strengthening the primary health care services, preventing preterm delivery and ensuring labour room protocol to prevent ROP.
Dr Munir Ahmed in his speech as the special guest said, “ROP is a life threatening condition that can be prevented if timely screened and treated. We need to ensure eye screening of children within 20/30 days after their birth. We need to work together in an organized manner to prevent ROP. This workshop aims at validating the collaborative efforts of ROP guidelines.”
According to papers presented at the workshop, in 2020 an estimated 1.1 billion people had vision impairment globally, of whom 43.3 million are blind.
Referring to global estimates, speakers said one out of every five children has some sort of vision problems globally and that ROP is responsible for some of the problems that occur during childhood and can lead to blindness if untreated.
According to the speakers, visual loss not only affects individuals and their families but also the community and country at large, resulting in a greater loss of productivity and taking its toll on the economy.