Imagine that your sight is slowly declining and you have no idea why. That’s what happened to Bibhuti Chakraborthy, a 55 year-old farmer and father of three children who lives in rural Bangladesh.
Bibhuti attending his most recent check-up. Photo: c. HKI
Three years ago, Bibhuti noticed that he could no longer see his fields as clearly as he once did. Tasks that were once simple became more difficult because he had trouble seeing. He didn’t understand what was happening to his vision or why he could no longer see properly and everyday life became a struggle. Desperate for answers, he visited the nearest hospital where he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy, a condition where damage to the blood vessels in your eye leads to visual impairment. Bibhuti was not even aware that he had diabetes or that diabetes could be connected to the vision problems he was experiencing. Unfortunately, Bibhuti’s story is not uncommon: people suffering from Diabetic Retinopathy are often unaware that their vision problems are connected to diabetes.
Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) affects 4.2 million people around the world, most of whom live in developing countries. With cases of diabetes on the rise worldwide, it is more important than ever that diabetics understand the risks and complications of the disease. HKI trains health workers to screen people for DR to promote early detection. The program also provides treatment and counseling that helps diabetes patients understand the risk factors associated with diabetes. Piloted three years ago in Bangladesh and Indonesia, the program has already provided screenings to 25,000 diabetics and preserved the sight of 4,000 of them.
Bibuthi is seeing much better these days. He completed a sightsaving laser treatment in his right eye and is about to undergo another surgery for his left eye. Thanks to HKI’s counseling programs and regular visits to his doctor, he now understands the implications of his diabetes. He tries to walk at least 20 minutes each morning, takes his tea without sugar and tries to balance his diet with more vegetables, cutting out the sugars and fats that worsen his condition. He also receives regular phone calls to remind him of his check-ups and treatments, and Bibuthi is glad to know that HKI is with him each step of the way as he continues on the path toward clearer vision.
Did you know that by 2030 over 550 million people in the world will suffer from diabetes? According to the International Diabetes Federation approximately 366 million people already have diabetes and 80% them live in low and middle income countries. The age of onset for Type 2 diabetes continues to fall worldwide, and is increasingly found in people as young as their late teens and early twenties.
What do these shocking statistics have to do with eye health? One of the lesser known side effects of diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy and results in a sometimes irreversible loss of vision among diabetics. Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is asymptomatic in its early stages, so regular screening is to identify and treat DR is crucial.
With funding from the World Diabetes Foundation and Standard Chartered Bank, HKI successfully developed two pilot programs in Bangladesh and Indonesia, areas where DR is often untreated due to a lack of well-trained ophthalmologists. The key components of HKI’s program include training diabetes clinicians to recognize the disease and encourage their patients to obtain annual eye examinations; raising awareness among diabetics about the significant risk of vision loss; and increasing patient access to DR screenings and care by developing affordable and efficient treatment systems. Working with our local partners, HKI has succeeded in making DR screening a basic component of the screening regimen for all diabetes patients served by these facilities. This process includes photographing the retina, sending the images to ophthalmologists outside of the region over the internet, determining the presence and severity of disease and offering appropriate treatment to the patients. HKI hopes to scale-up these efforts to train more doctors and reach more diabetics to prevent the spread of diabetic retinopathy.
An interview with HKI's Senior Ophthalmologist and Eye Health Advisor.
You sometimes hear the phrase, “One plus one equals three,” and I have been struck by the power of that notion in my work with Helen Keller International through the partnerships we create with local organizations. I recently sat down with Dr. David S. Friedman, HKI’s Senior Ophthalmologist and Eye Health Advisor, to talk about his experiences in public health and his perspective on building partnerships to achieve success. Dr. Friedman most recently was awarded the prestigious Alcon Research Institute award for his contributions to ophthalmic research.
Helen Keller International addresses the growing problem of blindness from diabetes
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.
Welcome! World Sight Day seemed like the perfect occasion to officially launch Helen Keller International’s new blog, Seed to Sight. Today is a day of global awareness about how to avoid and treat blindness and visual impairment, and our blog is a means to start a dialogue about our programs and the issues we face in preventing blindness and reducing malnutrition around the world. We will also share perspectives and viewpoints from people in the communities where we work.