‘Tsunami’ of diabetic retinopathy

Burden of diabetes and associated ocular disease is more pronounced in developed countries

Dermot McGrath

Posted: Friday, March 1, 2019

Tunde Peto MD, PhD

Urgent strategies are needed to tackle the looming epidemic of diabetes and diabetic-related eye disease that is threatening to overwhelm public health systems worldwide, Professor Tunde Peto MD, PhD, told delegates attending the 9th EURETINA Winter Meeting in Prague.

While the situation is already critical, with an estimated 425 million people worldwide affected by diabetes, the bad news is that the global epidemic is going to get dramatically worse in the near future, she warned.

“One-in-six babies born in Europe today have mothers with active diabetes, and more people die of diabetes than malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV-AIDS combined. Diabetes-related blindness is projected to increase by 8% and moderate visual loss by about 29% every year,” she said.

Prof Peto noted that the burden of diabetes and associated ocular disease is more pronounced in developed countries compared to developing countries, where infectious diseases are widespread and directly affect mortality rates.

“Greater life expectancy and more chronic diseases coupled with the incoming tide of babies currently being born with a higher risk of diabetes at an early age is setting us up for a tsunami of eye diseases that we will have to manage over the long term,” she said.

National screening programmes for diabetes combined with preventive education measures would go a long way towards lessening the impact of the disease in years to come, she said.

“Iceland or England and Wales, where screening programmes have been in effect for years, show some grounds for hope as diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema are no longer the leading causes of blindness in those countries,” she said.