About the International Eye Foundation
IEF Programs: What is Retinopathy of Prematurity?
During pregnancy, blood vessels at the back of a baby's eyes develop from the center of the retina to the edges. This process, like the development of the lungs, is completed during the third trimester (last 12 weeks) of pregnancy. Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) occurs when the infant is born prematurely and/or underweight, and the blood vessel growth continues abnormally.
Improper use of incubators can cause ROP
Throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia during the 1940s and 1950s, premature babies with immature lungs and breathing difficulties were being saved through the use of incubators. These premature babies were often placed in oxygen to help them breathe.
Some of these babies developed Retrolental Fibroplasia, a condition now referred to as ROP. The retinal blood vessels continued to grow abnormally because of the increased oxygen levels. When the oxygen was withdrawn, the abnormal vessels atrophied, and in many cases pulled at the retina causing detachment and irreversible blindness.
Today in the West, the oxygen level in incubators is carefully monitored. Additionally, each baby is seen by a pediatric ophthalmologist who treats signs of ROP with laser and/or preventive measures.
Problem continues in Latin America, Asia, former Soviet Union
Many mid-level developing countries in Latin America, the former Soviet block, and parts of Asia are acquiring the resources to develop neonatal units with incubators. But very few neonatal units have appropriate equipment or pediatric ophthalmologists trained to treat ROP, contributing to a rise in ROP in these areas. Pediatricians, obstetricians, and nurses who lack the knowledge of how to recognize and prevent ROP and the inability to regulate oxygen levels in incubators further compound the problem.
Help for Latin America
Through IEF's "Seeing 2000" program, Dr. Luz Gordillo, a U.S.-trained pediatric ophthalmologist in Peru, is leading the way in Latin America by holding workshops, training fellows, and presenting at international conferences about ROP, its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention related to developing country environments. She has created public education materials for young mothers about ROP and the importance of proper prenatal care.
Help for Bulgaria
Prof. Petja Vassileva, IEF's Country Representative in Bulgaria who holds an MPH from Johns Hopkins University, has conducted joint workshops for obstetricians, pediatricians, neonatologists, nurses, and ophthalmologists in the four regions of Bulgaria focusing on this burgeoning problem.
Help for India
Dr. Harsh Kumar has published a book on ROP in developing countries for worldwide use and is targeting this problem in India. [ IEF Programs ]
The IEF's blindness prevention and sight saving programs are funded by governmental, foundation, and corporate contributors, as well as individuals like you who generously donate online. Our website showcases our successes and our breadth of services to the developing world. Feel free to contact us with specific questions or requests. [ Vitamin A Deficiency ]