PRESS RELEASE – ST. LUCIANS will soon receive diabetic retinopathy services under the Vision 20/20 LINKS Programme, “The Right To Sight”, an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to eliminate avoidable blindness worldwide. The programme provides equipment and training for screeners, graders and laser treatment to address diabetic retinopathy conditions.
Diabetic retinopathy, also known as diabetic eye disease, is a medical condition in which damage occurs to the retina due to diabetes and is a leading cause of blindness in up to 80 percent of people living with diabetes for 20 years or more.
The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Frimley Park Hospital in the United Kingdom, has embarked on the implementation of a diabetic retinopathy programme within the public health sector in St. Lucia.
Funded by the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Fund, a team of eight UK experts in Ophthalmology conducted a two-day training workshop with health officials to identify and address diabetic retinopathy conditions.
Marcia Zondervan is the Programme Manager for the VISION 20/20 LINKS programme.
“We’ll be teaching screeners from both the north and the south in how to identify diabetic eye disease and also how to treat it. The prevalence is much higher in the Caribbean than it is in Africa, so the need then becomes much greater and when very little is done, it just augments again and again and leads to blindness. We should not be having blindness from diabetic retinopathy; we should be able to prevent it,” Zondervan said.
Medical Officer for Health, Dr. Sharon Belmar-George, explained the importance of this programme and when full implementation could be expected.
“Presently, we do not provide laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy within our public health system. So we’ve been working closely with those specialists to set up a programme here and we’re hoping to commence in February 2018. Today, we’re doing an intensive training to ensure that the staff members are able to do a review of all of our patients and to ensure the different steps and to pick up in an early stage any possible complications of the eyes. Presently, quite a few of our patients, when they do need it, have to travel overseas for care. We are (hoping) that early in the year we can commence implementation of the programme,” Dr. Belmar-George said.
The lead trainer for the workshop and Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Frimley Health and NHS Foundation Trust, Professor Geeta Menon, was very impressed with the participants at the workshop and explained the difference between screeners and graders.
“Your screeners are the people who are actually taking the pictures and your graders are the people who are grading the image to decide which patients need to be sent urgently for treatment and which patients need to come back for an annual review. The enthusiasm of the team of both screeners and graders has been absolutely amazing. It’s been a real pleasure trying to actually teach them. To just give you a gist, they actually have no idea of Ophthalmology at all. So they don’t work in an Ophthalmology clinic. But the way they have picked up all the knowledge we have disseminated in the last two days and run with it has been just absolutely amazing,” Professor Menon said.
At the end of the workshop, participants were tested on their ability to screen and grade images upon which they were presented with a certificate certifying them as screeners and graders for the diabetic retinopathy programme in St. Lucia. Training in laser treatment was also provided to Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr. Dara Bert, during the two-day training which began on December 11. The laser equipment and specialized cameras were all supplied under the grant funding.