Eye care everywhere: Fighting the fastest growing cause of blindness in the Pacific
Today is World Sight Day, and this year’s theme is “Eye care everywhere”, highlighting the importance of providing accessible, quality eye care to all those who need it, no matter where they live. Eighty per cent of blindness is avoidable, and 90% of cases exist in developing countries where there is little or no access to eye care.
The Trust is working across the Commonwealth to improve access to eye care and to tackle three major causes of preventable blindness.
The fastest growing cause of avoidable blindness globally is diabetes. As rates of the disease reach epidemic levels - most significantly in low- and middle-income countries - the need for eye care could not be greater.
The Trust has partnered with the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, to tackle blindness caused by diabetes in the Pacific – home to seven of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of the disease.
Because of its vast geographical spread, - Kiribati, for example, covers a distance of over one million square miles – providing effective eye health in such remote communities is a real challenge. Rising populations, increasing rates of poverty and slow economic growth all add to this challenge. People with diabetes require 3-4 times more in health care resources, and the impact on already stretched health care services is immense.
More than half of all people with diabetes don’t know they have the condition, and by the time they notice problems with their vision it is often too late for treatment. The Trust’s Diabetic Retinopathy Initiative is working in the Pacific to raise awareness of diabetes so that people’s sight can be saved before it’s too late.
Through the Initiative, ophthalmologists, eye nurses and other health care workers have been trained and equipment has been provided, enabling nearly 30,000 people with diabetes to have their eyes screened, and nearly 6,000 people to receive treatment. Vanuatu’s first ever ophthalmologist will graduate through the Trust’s programme this year.
By working closely with ministries of health and local partners to improve services, the Trust hopes that when its programme comes to an end next year, people across the Pacific will be able to access the care they need and live free from the risk of avoidable blindness.