The Fred Hollows Foundation has signed up to a 10-year partnership with the International Diabetes Federation to tackle a challenging complication of the disease that can lead to blindness.
"By 2035, diabetes could become the leading cause of blindness," says Brian Doolan, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation, "but Fred Hollows wasn’t a man who walked away from a challenge."
With diabetes, fluctuating blood sugar levels can damage the retina, causing blurred or distorted vision and eventually blindness if left untreated – a condition called diabetic retinopathy.
The partnership was announced today at the prestigious Baker IDI Institute just days before the start of the World Congress on Diabetes in Melbourne.
“We are proud that Fred’s Foundation is establishing this partnership with the IDF, and while we are daunted by the size of the task before us we are excited by the opportunity of working with The Federation to make sure people with diabetes do not suffer unnecessary blindness.”
Mr Doolan describes the new partnership as a timely one given the sharp rise in diabetes globally.
"Urgent action is needed to help people avoid blindness from diabetic retinopathy through access to a sight-saving eye examination once a year.
"Unless we do the groundwork now, four out of five of those people won’t have access to adequate eye care services."
The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has welcomed the alliance and says the Federal Government will play its part fighting the disease and its consequences.
"The government has plans to support the development of a new National Diabetes Strategy.
"This will inform how existing health resources can be better coordinated to address one of the most serious health challenges facing our country and our world," he said.
The new alliance will embed eye care as part of general health care for people living with diabetes and work towards new global guidelines on treatment.
The partnership will also collaborate on rolling out diabetes programs in a range of developing countries that are expected to include mass screenings.
It will invest in low cost treatment services to address diabetic retinopathy, and contribute towards building a skilled workforce to provide good quality care in all aspects of screening, treatment and management of the condition.
Some 1.3 million Australians have diabetes and, of these, 300,000 have diabetic retinopathy while more than half will have suffered some form of vision impairment.
Diabetic retinopathy is already the main cause of blindness among working age adults worldwide.
People most at risk are those with poorly managed diabetes or high blood sugar levels and high blood pressure, particularly if they also have kidney disease.