The worldwide prevalence of diabetes is escalating at an alarming rate, creating a global public health crisis. Sight For All is working in Australia and abroad to address the most common complication of diabetes, Diabetic Retinopathy.
Diabetic Retinopathy is the most common complication of diabetes, with one third of people with diabetes having this potentially blinding outcome. There are currently 45 million people worldwide with vision-threatening Diabetic Retinopathy, which is expected to increase to 70 million by the year 2040.
Approximately 1.5 million Australians are estimated to be living with diabetes. Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of preventable blindness in working age Australians, with a total indirect annual cost to Australia of $2.07 billion.
Source: IAPB Vision Atlas
Sight For All is addressing this global health crisis in a variety of ways.
In Australia, we have an ongoing public awareness initiative in Aboriginal communities utilising a series of educational videos including ‘Sid’s Bad Sugar’ and ‘Eyes’ by Caper. We have also released a series of commercials about the impact of blindness, including ‘Neil’, a moving 30-second piece that features a man who suddenly went blind at the age of 50 due to neglect of his diabetes.
The prevalence of vision-threatening Diabetic Retinopathy is higher in Asian populations. Many low and middle income countries are ill-equipped to identify and manage this blinding complication, with as few as 10% of people having been diagnosed and treated.
In 2015, a pilot study was implemented in Myanmar to determine the prevalence of Diabetic Retinopathy among patients with diabetes. This study reported that 33% of participants had evidence of vision-threatening disease.
Through Sight For All’s sustainable ‘teach a man to fish’ teaching model, we have trained retinal specialists in Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. To support this teaching, we have provided diagnostic and surgical equipment including indirect ophthalmoscopes, OCT machines, fundus cameras, surgical microscopes and instruments, vitrectors and retinal lasers, in order to establish Retinal Units in major teaching institutions in each of these countries.
In 2017, Sight For All commenced our ongoing Upskilling of Eye Health Workers and Infrastructureproject in Myanmar. This project, funded by the Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), involves the provision of indirect ophthalmoscopes (with lenses) and training in the diagnosis and treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy. This project has to date reached 39 Secondary Eye Centres in metropolitan and regional areas of the country.
The Secondary Eye Centre Project identified a need for five regional centres to be provided with further equipment and training to more effectively treat Diabetic Retinopathy. The centres in Pathein, Myeik, Pyay, Lashio and Mawlamyine have all being provided with new Ellex Solitaire lasers (with slit lamp and laser delivery system) and laser lenses. Retinal specialists from Australia have travelled to Myanmar to train the local specialists in the use of the equipment, ensuring that they have the expertise and equipment to diagnose, monitor and treat patients with Diabetic Retinopathy well into the future. This project will continue to other centres in Myanmar and Cambodia. A similar project was undertaken in Lao in 2016, where lasers and training were provided to regional eye centres in Luang Prabang, Champasak, and Savannahket.