There are a lot of people in the unlit, rather grimy waiting room at the Diabetes Hospital in Chittagong, Bangladesh. I had read the statistics about the burgeoning numbers of diabetics, but it is a different experience seeing the numbers transformed into persons. Despite a certain level of chaos, patients’ needs are being met – their blood sugar checked, nutrition counseling provided, their feet and legs examined for worrisome pain, numbness or ulcers, etc.
Diabetes affects the whole body – including the eyes. Blindness as a result of the disease (diabetic retinopathy or DR) is a serious concern – and one that is growing as the number of diabetics increases. In addition, more and more are becoming afflicted with diabetes at younger ages and the majority will suffer some DR within 10-15 years of becoming diabetic. Diabetes causes blood vessels in the eye rupture and leak affecting vision. DR can be insidious and damage the eye with no apparent effect on the diabetic’s sight.
For this reason, it is absolutely critical that diabetics are aware of this possible threat and have regular exams to screen their eyes. Those who treat diabetics are often primarily concerned, rightly so, with managing the disease. To address this potential gap in service delivery, HKI is implementing pilot programs to educate patients about Diabetic Retinopathy, encourage those who treat diabetics to include testing for DR, train technicians to perform the actual screenings, and enable laser treatments to repair or eradicate the leaky vessels in the eye.
In the bustling city of Chittagong, HKI is collaborating with an incredible partner – the Chittagong Eye Infirmary and Training Complex (CEITC) and its Managing Trustee, Professor Rabius Husain – to provide Education, Training and Treatment for DR. It’s a challenging process in an under-resourced area with many competing health priorities. So far, HKI’s program here, along with a similar one in Indonesia, are experiencing success.
CEITC is right up the road – a quick rickshaw ride away – from the Diabetes Hospital. We’ve got some distance to travel to fine-tune and then scale up our program to reach everybody in need, but it is a promising start.
If you know someone with diabetes, make sure they regularly get their vision checked and their eyes examined for DR.