Trust convenes experts in India to tackle blindness caused by diabetes

Summit in Hyderabad, India, convened in the honour of HM The Queen to develop a strategy to prevent and treat a major cause of blindness from diabetes.

  • Ground breaking study into diabetic retinopathy to be examined at the Summit finds that treatment for diabetes currently neglects to account for eye health.
  • One in five people in India currently affected by diabetes

Hyderabad, India: Diabetes is on the rise everywhere. In India alone, in 2011, there were an estimated 62.4 million people with type 2 diabetes. This is projected to rise to an alarming 100 million by 2030.

With diabetes comes the risk of a range of complications, one of the most devastating being loss of eyesight. Diabetic retinopathy, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels leading to the retina, when left untreated, is the main reason people go irreversibly blind due to diabetes. More than 75% of people who have diabetes for more than 20 years will have some form of diabetic retinopathy. Currently in India about one in five people with diabetes is affected by it.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a collaborative effort by governments, eye health experts and civil society to tackle the escalating global issue of loss of eyesight through diabetes.

The Diabetic Retinopathy Summit, convened by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust in partnership with the Public Health Foundation of India and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, will be held in Hyderabad, India. It aims to develop an agreed national strategy for the prevention, detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy, reducing the magnitude of what is fast becoming a leading cause of avoidable blindness, not just in India, but across the world.

In preparation for the Summit, the Trust commissioned the Public Health Foundation of India and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to conduct a ground breaking study into the various approaches currently in place to detect and treat diabetes and diabetic retinopathy across India.

A major finding was the lack of attention given to the damaging impact diabetes can have on vision, with less than a third of diabetes physicians even having a simple vision chart in their clinics.

The study also highlighted:
  • A severe lack of public awareness about diabetes and the importance of regular eye tests.
  • Half of the people in the study didn’t know they had diabetes until they visited an eye clinic for problems with their vision.
  • More than half the patients visiting ophthalmologists had been suffering from diabetes for over 10 years, with 15% living with the condition for over 20 years and therefore putting themselves at a high risk of sight loss.

The report will be published in full after the Summit.

The Summit will examine the results of this landmark study as the starting point for the development of a shared national strategy. The three days of discussions and workshops will bring together leaders in eye health, diabetes and health policy in India and internationally. They will work together to develop ways of increasing public awareness of the condition, identify priorities for control and detail short and medium term support strategies. It will lead to the creation of a detailed national plan of action to combat diabetic retinopathy supported by all the actors involved.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (the Trust), which was established in 2012 to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, has made tackling diabetic retinopathy across the Commonwealth a major priority within its Avoidable Blindness Programme. In the Commonwealth as a whole, the rate of increase in diabetes is some 10% ahead of the global rate. The outcome of the Initiative in India will be relevant for many other Commonwealth countries.

Dr Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, said,

The Trust is delighted to bring together of some of the world’s leading experts in eye health care and diabetes and we are looking forward to supporting the agreed national strategy to come out of this Summit. This gathering of minds is a huge step towards tackling an escalating cause of blindness and will ultimately save the sight of many millions of people across the Commonwealth.

Dr GV Murthy, Director of the Indian Institute of Public Health said,

This Summit is ground breaking. It brings together all stakeholders including the Indian Government, eye care professionals, international and national NGOs, academic researchers, civil society, patient groups and media representatives. They will deliberate on the findings from the first ever comprehensive situational analysis conducted in the mega cities in India and chart out an integrated action plan to mitigate the consequences of diabetes on the eye. The Public Health Foundation of India is honoured to be hosting this Summit of national importance.

Sir Michael Hirst, President of the International Diabetes Federation said,

The International Diabetes Federation is very pleased to be associated with this excellent initiative by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. Far too many people with diabetes lose their sight to diabetes-related eye disease in India as elsewhere, because there is no effective retinal screening or appropriate care and treatment available. Thanks to the work of the Trust, diabetic retinopathy is being given far more attention and remedial action. We look forward to a long and constructive partnership with organisations devoted to the saving of sight.