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(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 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 have 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.
“So we’ll be teaching screener 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. And, we should not be having blindness from Diabetic Retinopathy we should be able to prevent it.”
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 specialist to setup a programme here and we’re hoping to commence in February of 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 pickup in an early stage any possible complications of the eyes. Presently quite a few of our patients when they do need it they have to travel overseas for care. So, we are working that early in the year we could commence implementation of the programme.”
The lead trainer for this workshop and Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Frimley Health and NHS Foundation Trust, Professor Geeta Menon, was very impressed with the participants of the workshop and explained the difference between screeners and graders.
“So 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. And, 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 Ophthalmology clinic etc., but the way they have picked up all the knowledge we have disseminated in the last two days and run with it. It has been just absolutely amazing.”
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 provide to Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr. Dara Bert, during the two day training with began on 11th December 2017. The Laser equipment and specialized cameras were all supplied under the grant funding.