Purpose: Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) has been suggested to be increasing in Africa. However, it was only previously documented as a cause of blindness in 8 of 48 (16.7%) sub-Saharan African countries. The purpose of this study was to better understand the magnitude and breadth of blindness from ROP in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: A questionnaire was sent to 455 ophthalmologists practicing in sub-Saharan Africa; the questionnaire was available in English, French and Portuguese.
Results: Responses were received from 132 of 455 (29%) ophthalmologists to whom the survey was sent. Eighty-three respondents were identified as ROP-involved ophthalmologists and were from 26 of 48 (54%) sub-Saharan African countries. Ophthalmologists in 23 countries reported that they examined at least one child who was blind from ROP during the last 5 years. Sixteen of these countries had not previously reported cases of blindness from ROP in the literature. The perceived occurrence of Type 1 or more severe ROP was reported to be increasing by 31 of 77 (40%) ROP-involved ophthalmologists. ROP-involved pediatric ophthalmologists and retinal surgeons reported the number of infants they examined annually with Type 1 or more severe ROP increased from a median of 1 (range: 0-15) to a median of 4 (range: 0-40) from 2015 to 2019. ROP was estimated to be the cause of blindness for 10% of all blind children examined by ROP-involved pediatric ophthalmologists and retinal surgeons during 2019.
Conclusions: ROP is becoming a more important and widespread cause of childhood blindness in sub-Saharan Africa.
Keywords: Blindness; Childhood Blindness; Children; Retinopathy of Prematurity; sub-Saharan Africa.