Yue Junjun started to panic when he began losing his vision. Little did he realise that he had diabetes – and that it could lead to blindness.
More than 68 million people have already been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy
The 33-year-old runs a small business as a building contractor in the large city of Ulanqab, near the border of Mongolia.Yue is the main financial support for his entire family – his wife, their five-year-old son, and his parents.
But like many people in China, it’s not easy for him to access proper health care. Yue lives hundreds of kilometres from an eye hospital, and it is difficult for him to take days off work.
The turning point came when his eyesight diminished so rapidly that he had to put his hand out in front of him to walk down the street. He knew he had to do something.
Yue is just one of more than one million people who have been diagnosed with diabetes in Inner Mongolia, partly due to a diet that is rich in red meat and milk.
The number of people with diabetes in China is astonishing. Over 68 million – more than the entire population of France – have already been diagnosed, and the figure is expected to keep rising.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the retina of the eye is damaged due to complications of diabetes. It often has no warning signs and can lead to permanent blindness. China already accounts for approximately 17 per cent of the world’s blind population, with an estimated 3.4 million being diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy
The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working in China for more than 20 years and is developing a plan to help fight this mammoth problem.
The focus up until now has been on the poorest people in the most remote communities – and the vital work of training doctors and health care professionals. Three quarters of the country’s 28,000 eye doctors work in urban hospitals.
Eventually Yue caught a train to an eye hospital 240 kilometres away, and was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy.
At the hospital, he was prescribed medicine, told to change his diet, and to make sure he kept having his eyes checked. “I have to take care of my eyes from now on. I need to look after my business and my family,” he said.
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