Sun | Jun 7, 2020

Persons with diabetes urged to get screened for diabetic retinopathy

Published:Monday | December 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton (second right), speaks with Maria Wheatle (left), a patient at the Greater Portmore Health Centre in St. Catherine, prior to her eyes being tested for diabetic retinopathy in the facility’s newly opened screening room. Looking on (from second left) are Chief Executive of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, Dr. Astrid Bonfield; and Regional Director, South East Regional Health Authority, Maureen Golding. The screening room for diabetic retinopathy was opened during a ceremony last week, at which the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme was officially launched.

Persons with diabetes are being encouraged to get screened for eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, to prevent vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness, resulting from damage of the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissues at the back of the eye (retina).

Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health, emphasised that annual testing for the condition is key, as the earlier the disease is detected, and with better control of diabetes and treatment of the eyes, vision loss can be prevented.

He noted that approximately 30 per cent of persons with diabetes are likely to have some level of diabetic retinopathy. Further, that 20 per cent of diabetics have sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy.

"This is estimated to be about 18,000 Jamaicans [with diabetes] and these persons are likely to require laser therapy to prevent significant loss of sight," he added.

Speaking at the launch of the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme at the Greater Portmore Health Centre in St Catherine last week, Tufton acknowledged that not enough screening and treatment sites for diabetic retinopathy and other eye diseases are available in the public sector.

He, therefore, welcomed the launch of the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening programme in St Catherine, which he said is going to fill a void.

Screening for the disease is currently being provided at the Hagley Park Health Centre in Kingston, and Isaac Barrant Centre of Excellence in St Thomas, as part of a pilot project funded by the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust of the United Kingdom.




Chief executive of the trust, Dr Astrid Bonfield, said the organisation has been working in Jamaica to detect and treat persons with the disease under the Caribbean Diabetic Retinopathy Project.

"Since we began our programme in Jamaica in 2015, more than 3,500 patients with diabetes have had their eyes screened, and over 600 have received sight-saving treatment," she disclosed.

Dr Bonfield said she is pleased that the programme is being expanded to make a difference to more Jamaicans.

The five-year project, which runs from June 2014 to May 2019, is being managed through the VISION 2020 LINKS Programme team at the International Centre for Eye Health, based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

It is intended to reduce diabetic retinopathy-induced blindness in four Commonwealth Caribbean countries: Belize, Dominica, Jamaica and St Lucia.

Diabetic retinopathy affects up to 80 per cent of persons who have had diabetes for 20 years or more.