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Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetes occurs when the body can’t produce or properly use a hormone called insulin, which results in high levels of blood sugar (glucose) in the body, and can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. People with diabetes are at a high risk of developing vision problems, usually from a condition called diabetic retinopathy. 


Diabetic Retinopathy damages blood vessels inside the retina at the back of the eye. It commonly affects both eyes and can lead to vision loss if it is not treated. Poorly controlled blood sugars, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase the risk of developing diabetic Retinopathy.

Every person with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic Retinopathy. Approximately 1 in 3 people living with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy and 1 in 10 will develop a vision threatening form of the disease. Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in working age adults (20- 65 years).


People with diabetic retinopathy whose sight is at risk can be treated, most commonly with laser, to prevent visual impairment and blindness. However, there is no treatment able to restore vision that has already been lost. Because diabetic retinopathy is initially asymptomatic many people with diabetes are not aware that their condition, if left unmanaged, may affect their vision and lead to blindness. The vast majority of patients who develop diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms until the very late stages, by which time it may be too late for effective treatment. Therefore, screening and early intervention is critical.

There is good evidence that making appropriate lifestyle changes can contain or even reverse the most common form of the diabetes (type 2 diabetes). The relevant lifestyle changes involve a sensible lower carbohydrate diet, increased exercise plus control of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. This is the primary health care approach that can result in lowering the prevalence of diabetes.

Low and middle-income countries account for approximately 75% of the global diabetes burden yet many are ill equipped to properly identify, treat and manage the complex and varied consequences of diabetes. Currently, South East Asia and the Western Pacific account for more than half of adults with diabetes worldwide. China, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh alone represent 45% of the global burden.  Yet the highest prevalence of diabetes is found in the Eastern Mediterranean, where close to 14% of the population is afflicted.

Efforts to reduce the prevalence of diabetes or to more effectively manage its health consequences are further undermined by the fact that approximately 50% of people with diabetes are currently undiagnosed. This is even more pronounced in Africa, where two thirds of people with diabetes remain undiagnosed and the greatest increase of the disease (103%) is anticipated by 2040.