Trust awards major grant to reduce blindness from diabetes in India

To mark World Diabetes Day, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is pleased to announce it is joining forces with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a government-funded public-private partnership, in a focused effort to reduce the growing threat of blindness from diabetic retinopathy.

The global diabetes epidemic is hitting India and other emerging economies the hardest. Over 61 million of the estimated 385 million people diagnosed with diabetes worldwide are in India. Blindness through diabetic retinopathy – which occurs when high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and high lipid levels damage the blood vessels leading to the retina – is a life-long risk for all of them. About 6.5 million Indians are already being treated for the condition.

As diabetes prevalence continues to increase, these numbers will too,not only in India, but in many other parts of the world. In twenty years time, diabetic retinopathy threatens to become the leading cause of avoidable blindness in low and middle-income countries. Once a patient goes blind from diabetic retinopathy, it is rarely reversible.

The Trust has therefore awarded a £3.3 million grant to PHFI to establish sustainable and scalable services for the prevention, detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy, which will be integrated into the Government of India’s health systems at every level. This new approach will serve as a model for other governments and partners in the Commonwealth and beyond to follow.

Over five years, the Initiative will establish:

  • National guidelines for the detection and management of diabetic retinopathy across the country.
  • Enhanced capacity of physicians and health support staff for improved control of diabetes and reduction of vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy.
  • The empowerment and enabling of people with diabetes and their family carers to control their diabetes through lifestyle changes, dietary modification and compliance with medication.
  • The identification and scale up of effective, integrated models of comprehensive district programmes for screening and management of diabetic retinopathy, as part of the Government of India’s programme for the control of NCDs.

In India, as in many countries, the risk of severe cases of diabetic retinopathy is exacerbated by a lack of awareness and poor integration of services. A recent study of current treatment of diabetic retinopathy in India, commissioned by the Trust and conducted by the PHFI and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found that most public-funded diabetic clinics provide no services for diabetic retinopathy. Less than a third of diabetes doctors have basic vision charts in their clinics, and nearly half of patients lose their sight before being diagnosed.

Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of the Trust says:

The Trust is delighted to be partnering with PHFI to tackle one of the cruellest and most debilitating consequences of diabetes. India is the obvious place to start: there is a large and growing problem, a wealth of local expertise, and a genuine government commitment to addressing it. While diabetic retinopathy can never be entirely prevented, blindness can be avoided through early detection and improved disease management:diet, exercise, medication and insulin injections.  By working with the PHFI and government of India we hope that what we achieve in five years in India will have a lasting impact across and beyond the Commonwealth, as an enduring legacy of the reign of Her Majesty The Queen.

Dr Gudlavalleti Murthy, Professor and Director, Indian Institute of Public Health says:

The Trust’s support to the programme in India has generated tremendous interest in the Ministry of Health and among the leading eye care institutions in the country. For the first time, the Ministry of Health has set up a national task force on diabetic retinopathy which brings together the policy makers, programme managers, eye care and public health professionals on a single platform to guide implementation of activities at the national level which also incorporates the Trust support.