Take the NetraSuraksha Self Check here.
Did that headline surprise you?
It shouldn’t. Diabetes is, after all, a disease that targets several organ systems in the body - the cardiovascular system, kidneys, lower limbs, and of course, the eyes1. Diabetic Retinopathy is a common disorder related to diabetes where the blood vessels that supply the eye (particularly the retina) get blocked, or leak, or burst3.
It also shouldn’t surprise you to know that Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause for blindness in the 20-70 age group worldwide1. In fact, in India, by the year 2025 approximately one-fifth to one-third of all persons (57 million) with diabetes will have retinopathy. Among them, approximately 5.7 million people with diabetes will have severe retinopathy and will require either laser or surgical intervention to preserve vision.2
That’s a big number for a disorder that is 100% preventable. That’s the good news. The bad news is Diabetic Retinopathy is asymptomatic in the early stages, and it doesn’t just happen to people with diabetes, but those in the prediabetic range too. The really bad news is that the awareness of Diabetic Retinopathy is dismally low - according to a 2013 study in Tamil Nadu2, just 29% were aware that their eyes needed to be examined regularly. However, awareness is something we can fix.
Network18 has launched the ‘Netra Suraksha’ - India Against Diabetes initiative, in association with Novartis, for this specific purpose. The initiative brings together the medical community, think tanks and policy makers to put into action real world solutions that will help people who carry the risk of Diabetic Retinopathy. Over the course of the campaign, Network18 will telecast a series of roundtable discussions focused on detection, prevention and treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy. By getting the word out there through these discussions, explainer videos and articles, Network18 hopes to help people who are prone to Diabetic Retinopathy in protecting themselves from this scary, yet completely preventable affliction.
So what do we look out for? In a recent round table discussion, Dr Manisha Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Retina Society of India, mentioned that one of the earliest symptoms is a persistent difficulty in reading that doesn’t go away even with a change in spectacles. The vision remains blurry. This is an early sign that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If ignored, the symptoms can escalate to clouds of black or red spots in the field of vision, or even sudden blackouts due to hemorrhages in the eye.
Doctor V Mohan, President of the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation recommends an annual eye test (with pupil dilation) to anyone who is in the diabetic or pre-diabetic range. Since the disorder is completely asymptomatic in the early stages, he recommends that the test be repeated annually, even if no Diabetic Retinopathy is detected. He also specifically warned people with diabetes to take the onus of this test themselves - often, diabetes centres are not equipped with eye specialists.
Dr Banshi Saboo, Chief Diabetologist and Chairperson of the Diabetes Care and Hormone Clinic (Ahmedabad) recommends that screening start at age 30, as the age at which Indians are getting diabetes is also getting lower. He makes a very important point: Diabetic Retinopathy is irreversible. Once caught, however, it can be managed and progression of the disorder can be prevented.
Overall, the consensus is that the best outcomes occur when Diabetic Retinopathy is caught early. Given the asymptomatic nature of the disorder, the only way to catch it early, is through regular screening.
This is where you come in. Even if you aren’t a patient with diabetes, take the online Diabetic Retinopathy Self Check Up. Then, urge the people in your life to do so as well. For any whose blood tests place them in the diabetic or pre-diabetic range, urge them to visit their eye specialist for a simple, painless eye test that takes less than an hour, start to finish. Make it a family affair and sync the test with a date you aren’t likely to forget, and then repeat it every year.
With a sea change in our diets, our environment, and our lifestyles, diabetes is becoming increasingly common. There are, in fact, 43.9 million people in India, who are undiagnosed diabetes patients1. Your vision is a valuable thing, and it needs your attention and care. Don’t wait for symptoms to occur - the disruption caused by vision problems ripples outwards to your family and support system.
Follow News18.com for more updates about the Netra Suraksha initiative, and prepare to involve yourself in India’s fight against Diabetic Retinopathy.
1. IDF Atlas, International Diabetes Federation, 9th edition, 2019
2. Balasubramaniyan N, Ganesh KS, Ramesh BK, Subitha L. Awareness and practices on eye effects among people with diabetes in rural Tamil Nadu, India. Afri Health Sci. 2016;16(1): 210-217.
3. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy 10 Dec, 2021