Diabetic retinopathy is the most serious eye problem associated with diabetes, a condition in which the body is unable to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. ORBIS International, a non-profit humanitarian organization, teaches surgical techniques for diabetic retinopathy in developing countries.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the tiny blood vessels in the retina — the light sensitive tissue in the back of the eye — weaken or swell, causing blood leakage, blockage of tiny vessels, new vessel formation and other vascular and neurological changes. These changes diminish the nerve cells’ ability to transmit images to the brain.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred or distorted vision, with the appearance of dark clouds from hemorrhage. Blots or specks in the field of sight can occur from nerve damage. Poor night vision is common, and in the most severe cases, total blindness can result. Temporary blindness from acute hemorrhage can be treated with surgery, but vision cannot be restored once the retina has been destroyed.
How common is diabetic retinopathy?
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 5 million individuals have diabetic retinopathy, accounting for 5 percent of world blindness. By 2025, an estimated 300 million people will have diabetes, with half expected to develop some level of retinopathy.
With the rate of diabetes increasing not only in developed countries, but in underdeveloped countries, as well, and the lack of adequate treatment available to many in the developing world, it’s estimated that 75 percent of people with diabetic retinopathy will live in developing countries. Among many native communities, diabetic retinopathy will become the leading cause of avoidable blindness.
Prevention of diabetic retinopathy
Individuals with diabetes should have annual eye screenings to detect diabetic retinopathy in its early stages. Proper management of blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as not smoking, may forestall the development of diabetic retinopathy or slow its progression.
Treatment of diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy can be treated in its early stages using laser therapy to change the dynamic of blood flow and oxygen requirements in the retina and also to seal leaking blood vessels in the retina. In later stages, surgery may be performed to remove scar tissue and hemorrhage in the vitreous humor — the clear, jelly-like material in the center of the eye.
What ORBIS is doing about diabetic retinopathy in developing countries
ORBIS is building diabetic retinopathy referral and screening systems in several developing countries, such as