“Hopelessly blind because someone failed to do the right thing at the right time.”
Those are the tragic words that a physician is likely to mutter as he looks at the faces in a school for blind children.
Pathetic and terrible as these opaque, sightless eyes are, their existence is rendered doubly so by the knowledge that virtually all blindness in children is preventable.
The common cause of blindness in children is infection of the eyeball, during the process of birth. The person of the mother may harbor germs which get into the baby’s eyes and set up the inflammation which results in scarring and opacity of the cornea.
And the prevention is so simple ! About 50 years ago a German obstetrician, Carl Crede, feeling, as did all doctors all over the world, the tragedy involved in having babies blinded during birth, began to search for a way to remedy the situation. He reasoned that it was logical to suppose that if the germs in the eye could be killed off immediately the crippling infection would not occur. He made a series of painstaking investigations on different solutions which might be dropped in the eye with safety and still destroy the germs.
He was finally rewarded by the discovery that a 1 per cent solution of silver nitrate dropped in the baby’s eyes immediately after birth would accomplish the desired results.
In Doctor Crede’s hospital 500 babies were born a year. Before he began the use of silver nitrate 10 per cent had infected eyes and in most instances the disease resisted the most intelligent efforts at treatment. Blindness resulted. After the use of silver nitrate was begun less than one child in 200 developed infection in the eyes.
When these results were announced physicians all over the world began enthusiastically to use the method.
But time makes people careless. Physicians often feel now that this precaution is no longer necessary. They think perhaps that the mothers under their care are too clean to infect their babies’ eyes. Or perhaps a parent or relative objects because although the silver nitrate solution in 1 per cent strength never does any harm it causes a little redness of the baby’s eyes for a while. But the danger of blindness in the new-born is real and still present, and this preventive measure is still required.
In most countries it is required by law. What is hard to under-stand is that lately when state legislatures are considering the re-enactment of such laws, such action should meet with a storm of opposition from fanatics who oppose all medical legislation.