by Maria Victoria Rondaris, MD
PARTNERSHIP FORGED TO FIGHT RETINOPATHY OF PREMATURITY (ROP)
Prematurity by itself is a public health concern. These infants born too soon experience substantial morbidity and mortality in the neonatal period, which translate into significant medical costs. In early childhood, those who survive are characterized by a diversity of health problems, including motor delay and/or cerebral palsy, lower IQs, behavior problems, and respiratory illness, and vision impairment. And when these children survive, many experience difficulty with school work, lower health-related quality of life, and family/ societal stress. Evolving information in adolescence and young adulthood shows a more optimistic picture, with persistence of many problems but with better adaptation and more positive expectations by the young adults. Few to no opportunities for prevention have been identified; therefore, public health approaches to prematurity must be vast and initiated early in the child’s life.
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is one of the priority diseases of WHO Vision 2020. Just like congenital cataract, it affects visual function in the very early ages and they can be treated or avoided. ROP ranks fifth among all other causes of childhood blindness in the world; AND IT IS AVOIDABLE! The unnecessary blindness from ROP can be controlled through a) reducing the incidence through excellent neonatal care, and b) detecting and treating infants who develop the severe stages of disease.
The Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology (PAO), Apl.de.Ap Foundation International, and WesternUnion.com team-up to reduce the number of blind babies resulting from “Retinopathy of Prematurity” (ROP) in the Philippines. ROP is an eye disease that strikes at least 10% of all premature births in the country. It is a potentially blinding but preventable with timely screening and management. During the launch, the three organizations commit to develop information and promotion activities through PAO’s “Silip Bulilit” nationwide advocacy program and Apl.de.Ap Foundation International’s “Campaign for Filipino Children” initiative.
These programs help create awareness of the importance of vision screening in children, especially among premature babies. The program also aims at revising and modifying the current local standard on ROP screening by initiating a multi-center trial and developing a national registry for premature infants with ROP. As of date, there has been several training programs for ophthalmologists-screeners being conducted nationwide to supplement the lack of manpower. Lay fora, advocacy workshops to neonatal ICU nurses and physicians alike have been consistently instituted since 2013, the initial date of advocacy and pledge of the PAO ROP Working Group together with the stakeholders was created, in celebration of the World Prematurity Day every November 17th. Posters, radio pitches and joining the Buntis Congress were conducted to heighten awareness of the disease. Likewise, through the ROP program, it has opened the eyes of the Department of Health and the Phil. Health Insurance Corp. to consider including ROP screening as part of the benefit in the Prematurity package. Moreover, a RETCAM machine- an instrument used for ROP screening- was donated by Apl.d.Ap Foundation to Southern Philippines Medical Center in the hopes that it will increase and augment their ROP screening capabilities in Mindanao. By this year, another machine with laser shall be provided for in more underserved areas to widen the reach of screening and treatment of these premature babies who may have been stricken with vision impairment. NO PREMATURE BABY BORN MUST GO BLIND!
About The Author
The Committee Chair for Community Ophthalmology since 2011, Dr. Rondaris has advocated for managing need, not managing demand and eye care must be integrated into the other pathways in primary and secondary care to avoid duplication.
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