KARACHI - More than eighty percent of premature babies who weigh less than 1.5 kilogrammes at the time of their birth have a high risk of developing disorganized growth of retinal blood vessels which can cause problems to the eyesight, including permanent blindness, a leading eye-care hospital said on Sunday.

“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 procedure to help avoid serious eyesight problems later in the life,” said chief of medical services at Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital Dr Wajid Ali Khan.

Talking to the journalists, he said that the blood vessels of the retina began to develop three months after conception and complete their growth at the time of normal birth. “If an infant is born prematurely, eye development can be disrupted,” he informed.

“The use of excessive oxygen to treat premature babies at hospitals stimulates abnormal vessel growth in eyes with the smallest and sickest child standing the greater chance of effects of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), the leading cause of pediatric retinal blindness,” he added.

He further said that studies had shown that keeping the oxygen saturation at a lower level from the time of birth could reduce the rate of advanced ROP.

He said that all parents must include a vision screening in their list of baby checkups between six and twelve months of age as every premature infant deserved constant attention of an ophthalmologist because of greater risks of his or her contracting eye misalignment, amblyopia and the need for glasses to developing normal vision.

Dr Wajid added that Al-Shifa had already signed MoUs with Fauji Foundation Hospital, Combined Military Hospital and Benazir Bhutto Hospital to provide treatment to newborns, at the risk of ROP.

“Al-Shifa is the only hospital in the SAARC region and among few in the world, having the latest facilities and skills to treat newborns with ROP,” he added.

So far, Al-Shifa has cured around 5,000 infants in the last four 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 hospital has over 40 highly qualified eye surgeons with paediatric department having some of the most senior eye specialists.

The hospital is expanding further, which will allow the Paediatric department to handle over 500 OPD patients per day in coming years; the current capacity stands at 250-300 patients per day.