Diabetes is one of the major non communicable diseases of public health importance. It is estimated that about half a billion people or 2.2% of the adult population (20-79 years) is living with diabetes with upto a third having diabetic retinopathy. This prevalence could even be higher than this as majority of those who have the diseases are yet to be diagnosed.Type 2 diabetes, which commonly occurs in adults, constitutes over 90% of total diabetes burden. Type 2 can be prevented by lifestyle changes such as consumption of healthy diet and increased physical activity, avoidance tobacco and harmful use of alcohol.

 Diabetic retinopathy is one of the common and early complications of diabetes and may end in blindness. The retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels of the eye (retina) get damaged, resulting to reduced blood circulation. The damage occurs when the blood sugars remain poorly controlled. As a result, abnormal blood vessels also develop in attempt to improve blood circulation. These blood vessels bleed easily into the eye (retina) and to the clear fluids of the eye obscuring vision

Screening for diabetic retinopathy among diabetic patients is important as retinopathy is painless and irreversible vision loss may be noticed only at very late stages, when very little can be done. If treatment is not offered in time/urgently, visual loss is irreversible. If only some visual loss has occurred, further the progression of visual loss may be stopped with treatment like LASER therapy, where some energy is directed to the bleeding parts, to arrest the vessel damage. Other treatments include Injections into the eyes and very advanced situations, Surgery to remove blood clotted in the eyes.

We can prevent or delay the development of Retinopathy among those who are diabetic by:

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  • Ensuring accurate sugar control by embracing good diet, physical exercises, and medicines as prescribed by the doctor.
  • Control of hypertension and other diseases that may be existing together with the diabetes
  • Having a regular eye check up, at least once in a year or as recommended by the eye doctor. If signs of progression to sight threatening retinopathy are identified, then treatment is offered in time to prevent this.

In addition to diabetic retinopathy, patients with diabetes may develop Cataract (treatable with surgery) or Glaucoma much earlier, especially when the sugar control remains poor.

In the last few years, with support from our partners we are developing centres of excellence for Comprehensive diabetic management, which have also been equipped with technology that will enable screening and treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy. Some of these include Nakuru and Machakos which will be inaugurated during the week of World diabetic day.

As we mark the world Diabetic day we call up on the public to go for  annual eye examinations from the health care providers. In addition we call up on the public to adopt good health habits that will reduce the risks of developing Diabetes and its complications.