New CBM Project in Sri Lanka Targets Diabetic Retinopathy

©CBM

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease caused by diabetes that attacks the retina of the eye. It can lead to permanent visual impairment or blindness. It occurs in about one- third of diabetics.

CBM is funding a new project to improve eye care for children and people with diabetes in five districts of Sri Lanka.

The project, which is being implemented in partnership with The College of Ophthalmologists, Vision 2020, a government-supported institution, takes a preventive approach. It will improve access to eye care and establish early intervention services for children, such as eye examinations in schools. The goal is to prevent diabetic retinopathy, one of the most common causes of preventable blindness and visual impairment.

466,000 children with and without disabilities and 250, 000 people with diabetes will receive the screenings and support they need to ensure they do not go blind unnecessarily due to refractive error or diabetic retinopathy.

Among other activities, 300 health professionals and 2,690 members of other professions, such as teachers, will be trained and 47,000 pairs of glasses will be provided.

The project is designed to fit into and support existing Sri Lankan government policies and regulations. The project will run until 2025.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

According to WHO, diabetic retinopathy is a disease caused by diabetes that affects the retina. The blood vessels in the retina are damaged and become leaky or blocked. Abnormal blood vessels can grow out of the retina causing bleeding or scarring of the retina, which can lead to permanent visual impairment or blindness. The most common cause of visual impairment is thickening in the central part of the retina (diabetic macular oedema ), which can lead to irreversible visual impairment.

Diabetic macular oedema occurs in about one- third of diabetics. Its damaging effects on vision can be prevented through early detection and treatment as part of preventive check-ups.

©CBM/Jayawardena

What is the status of eye health and diabetes in Sri Lanka?

Child eye health in Sri Lanka is an important public health issue. Without eye health, children are at risk of not being able to go to school, which in turn affects their ability to earn an income later in life.

Recent statistics from the International Diabetes Federation show that the prevalence of diabetes among adults in Sri Lanka is 8.5%, which equates to 1.16 million people. Research shows that people with diabetes are at increased risk of eye problems.

Although the Sri Lankan government has long been committed to health and has an extensive network of public health facilities, disease prevention has fallen behind. This is due to lack of public awareness and the cost of screening and equipment.

The Government of Sri Lanka has signed the Vision 2020 Declaration, which identifies five priority eye diseases to be addressed: Cataract, Child Blindness, Diabetic Retinopathy, Glaucoma and Low Vision. It emphasised the need to expand primary eye care at the community level, strengthen medical screening of children and rehabilitate patients who are irreversibly blind due to diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

What will be achieved?

Ophthalmic care will be strengthened and made more sustainable through more efficient referral systems, stronger primary care, more trained staff and greater awareness in the country of the importance of preventive measures.

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who was present at the launch of the project, said:

"We are taking care of eye care at the grassroots level. We want to ensure that we leave no one behind. This intervention by CBM is timely as the country is facing major challenges in accessing health services due to the current economic crisis."