World Diabetes Day: the hidden risk of blindness

November 2018

Today is World Diabetes Day and we’re shining a spotlight on the role that the Orbis family is playing in eliminating one of the fastest growing causes of avoidable blindness – Diabetic Retinopathy.

Diabetes is considered the fastest growing health crisis of our time with the number of adults suffering from diabetes set to jump from 425 million today to 522 million by 2030. Shockingly - and perhaps most importantly - around 50% of sufferers remain undiagnosed.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy already affects an estimated one-third of all people with diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in adults of working age (35-50).

In fact, every person with diabetes is at risk of developing retinopathy and will potentially go blind over time as excessive blood sugar levels cause irreversible damage to the vessels in the retina.

But the good news is that Diabetic Retinopathy can be treated effectively with early detection.

Orbis's work in diabetic retinopathy

As a way to combat this growing threat we’re teaming up with governments, other NGO’s and key health partners in high risk countries such as Guyana, Peru, China, Bangladesh and Vietnam to tackle this problem head on.

We're helping the eye health community build the infrastructure needed for early detection of diabetic retinopathy and integrate eye screenings into the overall care for people living with diabetes. We're working alongside ministries of health to raise awareness of diabetes and DR among the general population to ensure more people come forward for tests.

We're looking at ways to improve diabetic retinopathy screening and early detection by training non-medical staff to spot symptoms and we're working with partners to build a best practice approach for all to follow (see below for more on this).

Here are some of the approaches we've taken in each country thanks to our supporters and partners:

  • In Bangladesh we’ve established screening services for children in remote areas to ensure early detection of eye problems as a result of diabetes.
  • In China, we implemented quality diabetic care for patients in rural country hospitals by providing comprehensive training for eye professionals. We’re collaborating with the Chinese Ministry of Health to address diabetic eye disease.
  • Between 2014 and 2017, hundreds were saved from a lifetime of blindness in Peru thanks to improved screening, referrals and treatment for DR for people with diabetes. We trained professionals right across the health system to ensure patients received the care they needed early enough for treatment to be successful.
  • In Vietnam, we’re working in partnership with other NGOs to improve access to eye health services – including screenings for diabetic patients.

Early detection can prevent diabetic retinopathy in 98% of cases

A Global Strategy

Together with leading non-government agencies across the diabetes and eye care sectors we've helped build a global diabetic retinopathy strategy. ‘A Global Compendium on Good Practice: Integrated Care for Diabetes and Eye Health’ highlights several of our proven best-practice approaches taken to curb this rising epidemic – including three successful Orbis projects.

Read more here.

The need

We’d like to thank all our partners and supporters, who without their support, we wouldn’t be able to make such significant strides in the fight against Diabetic Retinopathy.

With current predictions suggesting that by 2040 642 million adults will be living with diabetes and 224 million will have some form of Diabetic Retinopathy there’s still so much more that needs to be done to tackle this growing threat.

A 'business as usual approach' will simply not work. We must go beyond doing more of the same isolated interventions and create a collective and integrated approach.

With the Global Strategy in place we have the know-how to help millions of people build a brighter future - but we need your support to make this a reality.