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An initiative to stop Australians with diabetes going needlessly blind

MEDIA RELEASE

This National Diabetes Week, Vision 2020 Australia is calling on the Australian Government to invest in the prevention of diabetes-related eye disease – the leading cause of avoidable vision loss among working-aged Australians.

An estimated 1.7 million Australians are living with diabetes. With an additional 280 people developing diabetes every day, this figure is predicted to grow to 2.45 million by 2030.

What’s more, one in three people with diabetes has a related eye disease such as diabetic retinopathy.

Carla Northam, CEO of Vision 2020 Australia, says: ‘Ninety-eight per cent of severe vision loss from diabetes can be avoided with early detection, yet we know half of Indigenous Australians and one-quarter of non-Indigenous Australians with diabetes are not having eye examinations as often as they should.

‘Vision 2020 Australia is calling on the Australian Government to fund the national Diabetes Blindness Prevention Initiative, which will assist in improving coordination of service delivery, ultimately reducing the number of people who are needlessly blind.’

Jamie Duncan, a writer/editor at Vision Australia, had what he calls a ‘brush with blindness’ that could have been prevented. At age 37, Jamie was told his diabetic retinopathy was already well advanced, despite only recent and subtle changes to his vision.

‘I knew I was in trouble when an optometrist examined my eyes and recoiled in horror at what she saw deep inside them. Diabetic retinopathy was robbing me of my sight, and I had no idea,’ Jamie says.

‘I’d never been to an optometrist before. My vision had become a little blurry and I assumed glasses would fix everything. Not quite, as it turned out.’

Despite retinal laser surgery Jamie began to lose his sight. A month before his 40th birthday, a large bleed in his eye made him legally blind.

‘My vision had been fading for a long time. I thought I was prepared if the worst happened, but that final blow was devastating,’ Jamie says.

‘The reality really hit home later that evening when I was cradling my four-month-old daughter. Her tiny hand reached up to touch a tear rolling down my cheek, and I realised I couldn’t see her face.’

An invasive surgical procedure eventually restored Jamie’s sight, but his message to all people with diabetes is to have an eye test every one to two years.

Ms Northam says: ‘Unfortunately, not everyone with diabetes-related eye disease is as lucky as Jamie – prevention is better than a cure.

‘The Initiative we are proposing, with Diabetes Australia and in partnership with the Centre for Eye Research Australia, will remind people with diabetes to have regular eye checks, ensure more-effective information sharing and establish an evidence base on eye examination uptake.

‘Systematic and coordinated screening has virtually eliminated diabetes-related blindness in other countries. It is vital that Australia does the same.’

ENDS

Read more about Jamie’s story.

For more information: Ellie Cooper at Vision 2020 Australia

03 9656 2030, 0403 342 922 or ecooper@vision2020australia.org.au

About Vision 2020 Australia

As the national peak body for the eye health and vision care sector, Vision 2020 Australia represents around 50 member organisations involved in local and global eye care, health promotion, low vision support, vision rehabilitation, eye research, professional assistance, and community support. Established in October 2000, Vision 2020 Australia is part of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a global initiative of the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

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