Commonwealth experts agree a manifesto to step up efforts to preserve the sight of people with diabetes

In October 2016, professionals from the diabetes and eye health sector came together in Durban, South Africa, for a three-day Symposium hosted by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and the International Centre for Eye Health, to strengthen current approaches to tackle blindness from diabetes.

As rates of diabetes reach epidemic levels globally, diabetic retinopathy – a complication of diabetes which if left untreated can cause irreversible loss of sight - is predicted to become the leading cause of avoidable blindness in working age adults. Over 100 experts from 30 countries across the Commonwealth came together in Durban to explore how to ensure more people with diabetes in the Commonwealth and beyond can access effective screening and treatment to prevent them from going blind as a result of the disease.

Eye health and diabetes specialists, ministries of health and international NGOs examined the progress and lessons so far of the Trust’s programmes to tackle diabetic retinopathy across the Commonwealth. Delegates also discussed how to help secure key policy changes and carried out macro-planning of national services to tackle the condition, against the backdrop of the Sustainable Development Goals and health service strengthening.

At the end of the three-day Symposium, a landmark manifesto was developed and agreed by delegates that outlines the key principles of a cost-effective and efficient diabetic retinopathy screening and treatment programme that could be built into the public health system at every level. The eight principles are:

  • Universal treatment where everyone with diabetes has access to advice and treatment for diabetes, regular screening for diabetic retinopathy and timely access to affordable treatment.

  • Patient-centred care where all people with diabetes are supported, together with their family and community, so they can improve management of their diabetes to reduce the risk of complications, including retinopathy.  

  • Evidenced-based approaches where information and learning is shared to improve models of care in relation to their coverage, efficiency, cost and effectiveness.

  • Quality service where standards, guidelines, measures and quality assurance are developed and endorsed to deliver quality and integrated care.

  • Integrated service which promotes improved self-management of diabetes and for the detection of diabetic retinopathy to be integrated into holistic care of people with diabetes, whether through government, private or NGO services at all levels of care.

  • Appropriate human resources where staff implementing the programme have received the appropriate training, accreditation and ongoing professional development and are distributed equitably, so that a safe and quality service is provided.

  • Accessible where services are available, affordable, appropriate, safe and integrated where possible with care available to all people with diabetes.

  • Cost effective and sustainable where resources– staff, equipment and technology, venues, medication - that are the most cost effective for that setting and which maintain standards of care and access are used.

The aim of the manifesto is to serve as a common platform for all those wishing to strengthen services to prevent diabetic retinopathy across the Commonwealth, so that a consistent and comprehensive message is delivered reflecting best practice. At the Symposium, delegates discussed how they would use the manifesto to build momentum and achieve progress for the benefit of people with diabetes now and in the future.

This includes working with UN specialised agencies and other international organisations, regional bodies, national and local politicians, Commonwealth ministries of health, professional bodies, training institutions, health workforces diabetes associations, the media and others to raise awareness about blindness from diabetes and what is needed to prevent it, and to encourage the integration of diabetic retinopathy services into diabetes care.

Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, attended the symposium and said “I am delighted that experts from all over the Commonwealth came together to discuss and agree a way forward for how we can as an eye health and diabetes community stop people from going blind as a result of diabetes. Stepping up efforts everywhere to prevent diabetes is crucial and urgent. I am convinced that with the energy and determination so evident at the Symposium we can together make a real and enduring difference for the people of the Commonwealth and stop this rapidly growing form of avoidable blindness in its tracks.”

Click here to download a copy of the 8 point manifesto: Preserving the sight of people with diabetes across the Commonwealth