Diabetes increases avoidable blindness risk - World Sight Day reminds us

The rapid escalation of diabetes around the world means more people than ever before are at risk of avoidable blindness, The Fred Hollows Foundation has warned.

World Sight Day is a reminder diabetes has already become the biggest cause of blindness among the world’s working population, our CEO Brian Doolan said. This is why The Foundation is investing in a new sight-saving technology to help fight it.

Currently an estimated 32.4 million people around the world are blind yet 4 out of 5 people who are blind don’t need to be.

However, about one million Australians have diabetes and worldwide more than 500 million people are expected to be living with diabetes by 2035. A little known fact is that a person with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, which causes blindness if left untreated.

Diabetic retinopathy is insidious as there are no early warning signs. Reduced vision only occurs in the later stages of diabetic retinopathy, when it is difficult to treat effectively, and damage to eyesight is irreversible. That’s why an annual eye exam is essential for anyone with diabetes.

About 80 per cent of people living with diabetes are in the low and middle income countries.

Avoidable blindness devastates not just the lives of individuals but also the communities they live in. That’s why The Foundation is working on ground-breaking new technology to instantly detect the onset of blindness caused by diabetes before there are any obvious warning signs. 

The Fred Hollows Foundation is one of 10 finalists in the Google Impact Challenge which is investing in technology to create a better world, faster. One of the finalists will be selected by the public through online voting.

The Foundation is working closely with the Social Eyes Corporation to put 200 mobile handheld tablets called MARVIN in the hands of health workers across the world by 2017.

In just three years, health workers will be able to check the eyes of up to 100 people a day – or 30,000 people a year - who might otherwise lose their eyesight because they weren’t warned in time. Ultimately it will help save the eyesight of millions of people living in remote communities by giving them access to this critical check-up so they can get help sooner.

MARVIN uses high-quality photos of the back of the eye to check for damage caused by diabetes, and provides on-the-spot assessment and diagnosis. The device is easy to operate and can be used by a health worker with no training.
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