The Countess of Wessex shines a light on the growing threat of blindness caused by diabetes in Bangladesh

The Countess of Wessex shines a light on the growing threat of blindness caused by diabetes in Bangladesh

Today, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, visited Barisal, Bangladesh, to see first-hand how the Trust is tackling the escalating problem of blindness caused by diabetes. 

Diabetes is rapidly becoming a global epidemic, bringing with it rising rates of blindness. Bangladesh has one of the highest numbers of people with the diabetes in the world, with over 1.5 million people suffering from severe vision loss as a result. This number is expected to double by 2030.

Today, The Countess of Wessex met staff who have been trained by the Trust’s programme to help manage diabetes and prevent vision loss. HRH visited the Sher-e Bangla Medical College and Hospital, which through the Trust’s programme, has recently opened a zone specifically dedicated to the screening and treatment of people with diabetic retinopathy, and spoke to some of the people who have benefitted from its services.

The Countess also witnessed some of the awareness raising initiatives that have been set up to inform members of the community about diabetic retinopathy. The Countess took part in a workshop about the disease, and also watched a performance of dance and song, designed to spread messages about how those with diabetes can manage the condition and undergo regular screening to help preserve their sight.

Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. It is caused when poor control of blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and high lipid levels in the blood damage the blood vessels in the retina. The disease does not present any early symptoms – people can have the condition for many years without knowing it. Once vision deteriorates it is often too late for treatment.

In Bangladesh, the issue is exacerbated by the fact that over half of all cases of diabetes are undiagnosed. It is essential that all those with diabetes receive early screening, treatment and appropriate follow-up care, as this can reduce the risk of severe vision loss by 95%.

The Trust is working with the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Ministry of Health and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Barisal and Chittagong divisions of Bangladesh to bring high quality, affordable diabetic retinopathy screening and treatment services to all those who need them now and in the future by integrating them into Bangladesh’s public healthcare system. 

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

We are delighted that our Vice-Patron visited the work taking place in Bangladesh to stop those with diabetes from unnecessarily losing their sight. The growing rates of diabetes pose a huge challenge, not just for Bangladesh, but for the entire world. More people than ever are needlessly going blind from the disease, which is why we are stepping up efforts in parts of the Commonwealth worst affected. We are proud to be working with the Fred Hollows Foundation, who have saved the sight of so many people in this region. 

Before this programme came into existence, people had to travel all the way to Dhaka to receive treatment for diabetic retinopathy – a day’s journey by road or boat – making it almost inaccessible for the poorest patients, especially women. Now good quality, affordable screening and treatment services are available to all those who need them, and I am delighted that The Countess has been able to shine a light on the services available and meet with those who will benefit most.

Dr Zareen Khair, Country Manager of The Fred Hollows Foundation, Bangladesh, said,

On behalf of the entire team at The Fred Hollows Foundation I would like to thank Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex for her precious presence in the project areas of The Foundation in Barisal, Bangladesh. I would also like to express heartfelt gratitude to The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust for their relentless support in our fight against blindness caused by diabetes. It is due to their support that we are able to make people aware of the consequences of diabetic retinopathy and bring diagnosis and treatment of this disease to their doorsteps. Finally, I thank the all those who made this Royal Visit come about, including those at the British High Commission. I truly believe that meeting The Countess has motivated all those involved in their pursuit to protect people with diabetes from blindness.