Every year, thousands of premature newborn babies in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are going blind because physicians lack the training, supplies, and equipment they need to prevent blindness. This epidemic of blind babies is emerging in SSA from Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP).
ROP was first recognized in the US and Europe when premature babies began to survive in newly created Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). Though survival rates increased, babies received excessive oxygen in these NICUs, which often led to blindness.
Today, developed countries benefit from multiple enhancements in NICUs and treatments for ROP, which have subsequently significantly reduced the incidence of blindness.
In developing countries in SSA, many new NICUs are being established. ROP is becoming a more common cause of childhood blindness as survival rates for premature infants increase, but oxygen is not regulated properly. At present, many countries in SSA lack the infrastructure and equipment necessary to reduce the incidence of ROP, provide proper screening, or treat it effectively.
The International Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus Council (IPOSC), in partnership with the Children’s Eye Foundation of AAPOS, is seeking funding to develop protocols, educational materials, and screening techniques, as well as to provide equipment to neonatal centers in Africa for proper oxygen administration. This critically important initiative, once executed, will give many thousands of children the joy of sight for life.