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Diabetic Retinopathy Program launched

(PRESS RELEASE) – The Ministry of Health and Wellness held the official opening ceremony for the newly-implemented Diabetic Retinopathy Program in Primary Health Care.

Saint Lucia has a diabetes prevalence rate of 14.6 percent. Diabetes Retinopathy is a major cause of morbidity in persons living with diabetes and is among the most common causes of sight loss in the working-age population.

The opening ceremony for the Diabetic Retinopathy Program took place on Feb. 8, at the Vieux Fort Wellness Centre.

While addressing the gathering, the Minister for Health and Wellness, Sen. Hon. Mary Isaac, took the opportunity to thank the donors for their support.

“I would like to sincerely extend our deepest gratitude to the funding agencies the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, in coordination with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as well as Firmley Park Hospital who have been instrumental in ensuring the implementation of this program in Saint Lucia.

The minister continued: “In Saint Lucia, we presently have approximately 12,000 patients with diabetes and approximately 1200 of them are experiencing vision threatening diabetic retinopathy. I am convinced this program, the screening and laser treatment will inevitably play an important role in reducing the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy in Saint Lucia. We can now detect it and treat it before it’s too late for an intervention. At the Ministry of Health and Wellness, prevention is our focus in the management of chronic non-communicable diseases.”

Saint Lucia is one of four countries to benefit from this program. The other three countries include Belize, Dominica and Jamaica. The project will be implemented over a four-year period, however the aim of the Ministry of Health is to make this program sustainable past the four year duration, by providing extensive training for local medical personnel.

Dr. Covadonga Bascaran, Technical Consultant for the Caribbean Retinopathy Program, made a special appeal for persons with diabetes to come forward for eye screening. She said early detection is of paramount importance.

“We need to see the eyes of every diabetic in the island in order to prevent those that are going to become blind in time; so the challenge to come is to make sure that patients that have no symptoms come and get their photographs taken. At the beginning, we will see a surge of patients that already have the symptoms, they will be the first ones to come for the photograph because they already have a problem but for some of them, it might be too late, so spreading the word to patients that have no problems to come in for photographs important. In the next 10 years, it will make a big difference in the prevalence of blindness due to diabetes in the island.”

National Ophthalmologist Dr. Darra Burt also addressed the ceremony.

“We must understand that the laser is not a miracle treatment. The treatment only applies to patients with vision-threatening diseases. In diabetic retinopathy, what the laser does is, it reduces blindness it doesn’t prevent it. We must understand that what it does is prevent vision loss but it doesn’t reverse it so as long as vision loss is already established.”

Ministry officials are encouraging individuals to bring a friend, colleague, or family member or tell a friend to tell a friend to get screened and take advantage of the free service.

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