Health professionals from all over the world came together to mark World Diabetes Day on 14 November 2022 through an online workshop celebrating progress in development of diabetic retinopathy (DR) services in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs).
The Diabetic Retinopathy Network (DR-NET) is a knowledge-sharing and education network of health professionals delivering DR services in LMICs. Through a programme of activities, including regular online workshops, the DR-NET fosters the development of DR services and their integration into diabetes services to make them more accessible for patients.
This year’s theme for World Diabetes Day is ‘Education to protect tomorrow’ and the online workshop highlighted the need for education for health professionals and the community on the danger of DR and the need for regular screening of the eyes of people living with diabetes.
Facilitated by ICEH, the DR-NET workshop highlighted the vital importance of change at all levels of the health system to provide comprehensive services to people with diabetes which include prevention and treatment of complications such as DR, which can result in visual impairment and blindness.
Increased awareness amongst primary health care workers and people living with diabetes is essential, as is improved access to high-quality screening and treatment services. At national level, inclusion of DR screening and treatment in NCD and diabetes policies and guidelines is essential to promote integration into health services so that eyes are not left out when planning for the care of people living with diabetes.
Presentations from Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria highlighted the vital role of multidisciplinary collaboration and involvement of all stakeholders to tackle the increasing number of people who are losing their sight unnecessarily due to DR in LMICs. As the tide of diabetes, much of it undiagnosed, continues to grow, it is essential that health services work together to ensure that diabetes services include offering people with diabetes regular eye screening, education and counselling, and timely treatment when needed.
Examples included the impact of national guidelines for DR services, introduced in Kenya in 2017, at promoting and standardising DR screening and treatment services and their integration into diabetes services so that people with diabetes can easily access them. A case study from the Diabetes Clinic at Kenyatta National Hospital, illustrated the success of the “one-stop” approach to delivering diabetes services that include screening for complications including DR in the same place. This facilitates access for the patients and minimizes their visits to the clinic.
Presentations revealed how, in Malawi, VISION 2020 LINKS health partnerships underway since 2007 had contributed to the gradual improvement in DR services and the unification of the tertiary hospitals to provide standardised DR services across the country. A recent workshop in Malawi convened by the Ministry of Health highlighted progress to date. This included preparation of national DR guidelines for Malawi and the commitment of a wide range of diabetes stakeholders to work together to implement them over the coming years.
The participants congratulated the Ministry of Health in Nigeria on its progress towards DR national guidelines, recognising the impact that improved, integrated DR services will have on its population.
Closing the workshop, DR-NET eye health professionals worldwide were encouraged to work alongside the international diabetes community to promote World Diabetes Day on 14 November by undertaking three key actions:
- Take part in the World Diabetes Day survey for health professionals and patients: https://worlddiabetesday.org/about/
- Lobby Ministries of Health and policymakers to improve diabetes education to help achieve the World Health Organization (WHO) diabetes coverage targets by 2030: https://worlddiabetesday.org/educationtoprotect/
- Join the IDF World Diabetes Congress from 5-8 December 2022. IDF offers free online access to the Congress for healthcare professionals from, or living in, low-income countries: https://idf2022.org/registration/
See further resources from the DR-NET:
- More information about the DR-NET: https://iceh.lshtm.ac.uk/the-diabetic-retinopathy-network/
- The DR-NET toolkit: https://iceh.lshtm.ac.uk/files/2021/07/5.-DR-NET-Toolkit-2021.pdf