Diabetic Retinopathy Awareness Training for community health workers in Fiji has had a hugely positive impact on eye care services for diabetics in the country.
The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ worked in partnership with the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, Fiji, to provide Diabetic Retinopathy Awareness Training to over 800 community health workers across the region.
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes, and is responsible for the highest rate of avoidable blindness in the Pacific amongst the working age population. If it is detected early, patients can receive treatment to stop it worsening and resulting in vision loss.
Targeting community health workers (volunteers who support improved health within their communities), the training aimed to improve diabetic eye care services in Fiji by increasing their knowledge of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy. This in turn means the community health workers can then better educate their patients on the disease and appropriately refer them to health centres.
Following the training, there was an incredible 104% increase in diabetic retinopathy referrals from community health workers. This will go far towards helping patients in Fiji seek diabetes services in time, before diabetic retinopathy becomes sight-threatening.
Mr. Sharan Ram, a Fiji researcher contracted by The Foundation, conducted a study to understand the impact of the training on community health workers’ knowledge and referral practices.
The study found that the community health workers’ knowledge of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy had improved significantly after the training, and that they were more confident in raising awareness of the disease and appropriately referring diabetes patients to health facilities. The study also found that community health workers are an important link between the health sector and communities.
Mr. Sharan Ram says, “Through one’s interactions with the community health workers, one is able to feel first-hand that they are truly passionate about their work and that there is an element of intrinsic motivation, and the spirit of volunteerism, which drives them to do what they love to do, and get personal satisfaction out of that. They go above and beyond to serve their communities selflessly”.
Dr Audrey Aumua, The Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, says, “It is fantastic that the Awareness Training has resulted in improved diabetic eye cares services for the people of Fiji. As the leading cause of avoidable blindness in the working age population, it is an important area of focus for us.”
The training was funded by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.