Diabetes-related blindness: A growing crisis

No-one understands the challenges of living with blindness better than Ros, a Sydney mum who lost her sight aged 24, when she was pregnant with her eldest son.

Ros is one of the approximately one million Australians living with diabetes. She is also one of the rapidly growing number of people living with the devastating impacts of diabetes-related blindness. When Ros was aged around ten, she was diagnosed with diabetes. After noticing problems with her eyesight in her early 20s, Ros was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. She had laser surgery, but her sight could not be saved and Ros was left completely blind. Determined to live the life she wanted, Ros raised two sons and now works at Vision Australia helping others who have lost their sight to learn how to navigate daily life.

“The attitude is, it won’t happen to me – but unfortunately that’s not the case,” Ros said.

Diabetes is already the leading cause of blindness in working-aged people around the world. Diabetic retinopathy results from damage to the smallest blood vessels in the retina, caused by changing blood sugar levels. The effects are irreversible and often there are no early warning signs. Diabetes-related blindness could touch the life of every Australian in the years ahead.

In Australia alone, around one million Australians already have diabetes and around eight Australians lose their sight every day because of the disease. Over the next two decades, more than 590 million people globally are expected to have diabetes and around half of those will develop diabetic retinopathy within 15 years. The crisis will also have a significant impact in developing countries, where 80% of people with diabetes are living and quality eye care is often scarce or non-existent.

The Fred Hollows Foundation CEO Brian Doolan said the organisation was playing a key role in the global fight against diabetic retinopathy.

“We must continue to act urgently – providing more access to eye care, more trained staff, more awareness and more research,” Mr Doolan said.

“Eye care services in low- and middle income countries are already under enormous pressure and they simply won’t be able to cope with this crisis.

“Four out of five people in the world who are blind don’t need to be and The Fred Hollows Foundation will continue working to end avoidable blindness.”

The Foundation is screening and treating more people for diabetes-related blindness, supporting cutting-edge research, developing new technology, and working with international and national partners to fight the disease. It recently launched a new alliance with the International Diabetes Federation to advocate for diabetic retinopathy to become a global health priority, and to invest in staff, research and awareness.

The Foundation is also co-funding a five year Centre for Research Excellence project to combat diabetic retinopathy, with the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council.
 

Are you experiencing vision loss due to Diabetic Retinopathy?


Vision Australia provides a range of services to help people who are blind or have low vision live the lives they choose. If you are having trouble reading your mail, getting out and about confidently, or would like to participate fully in the community, contact them today to find out how they can help. For more information visit www.visionasutralia.org or call 1300 84 74 66.
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