Trust's Diabetic Retinopathy Initiative begins work in the Caribbean

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is providing a grant of over £1.3 million to the Caribbean Council for the Blind to support efforts to prevent and treat diabetic retinopathy in four Commonwealth countries in the region: Jamaica, Dominica, St Lucia and Belize.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the cruellest potential consequences of diabetes: if left untreated, it can lead to loss of sight. The condition occurs when high blood sugar levels, raised blood pressure and high lipid levels damage the blood vessels leading to the retina. By 2030, it could become the leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Although diabetes rates are soaring in many countries, the prevalence of diabetes in the Caribbean is almost fifty percent higher than the global average.  In Jamaica, Dominica, St Lucia and Belize combined, 225,000 out of 3,3 million people have diabetes – nearly 7% of the population. A third of them will have diabetic retinopathy.

Whilst scientists struggle to identify the precise reasons for this high incidence of diabetes, Caribbean countries must address the health,social and economic consequences. The economies of the region are small and undiversified, the climate tropical and the countries vulnerable to natural disasters and economic shocks. Population growth is high and poverty and inequality persist. The diabetes burden places additional strain on already limited health care resources. Few nationwide integrated approaches to the treatment of diabetic retinopathy exist.

As part of their 2010 strategic framework “The Right to Sight”, Caribbean governments called for a dramatic reduction in the incidence of diabetic retinopathy across the region. The Trust’s grant is given in support of this goal.

Over the next four years, the Trust will be working with the Caribbean Council for the Blind and its local partners to develop
sustainable, cost effective screening and treatment programmes in the four participating Commonwealth countries. The Ministries of Health will oversee implementation. Through a mixture of advocacy, technical and financial support, and education and training, by the end of the programme we aim to:

  • triple the number of diabetes patients being screened, and the number of diabetic retinopathy referrals
  • quadruple the number of retinopathy patients receiving sight-saving laser treatment.

Underpinning the programme are two principles: diabetic retinopathy screening and treatment programmes will be fully integrated into national health systems; and services will be available to all. The programme places particular emphasis on improving the lives of marginalised and disadvantaged groups, especially the poor, elderly and those in remote rural regions.

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

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust applauds Caribbean governments’ efforts to address the growing threat of diabetic retinopathy, and we are delighted to play a role in supporting their work through our grant to the Caribbean Council for the Blind. Diabetic retinopathy is an avoidable and distressing cause of sight loss. By helping to bring about positive and sustainable changes to national prevention and treatment systems in Jamaica, Dominica, St Lucia and 

Belize, we are working to honour the Trust’s mission: to bring significant and lasting improvements to the lives of Commonwealth citizens everywhere, in the name of Her Majesty The Queen.

Mr Arvel Grant, Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Council for the Blind says:

The partnership between the Trust and the Caribbean Council for the Blind represents a major turning point in the region’s fight against avoidable blindness.  The programme is a timely response to the high prevalence of diabetes in the region, and the attendant increases in incurable blindness from diabetic retinopathy. Funding from the Trust provides the Caribbean with a tangible basis from which to commence the inclusion of eye health as part of an integrated intervention strategy required for the effective management of diabetes and its several
complications.