Team Fred in Fiji rallies to help those managing diabetes eye disease during COVID-19

As the COVID-19 outbreak in Fiji continues to delay all but emergency eye care services, concern is mounting for those living with diabetes eye disease, a common complication of diabetes. To help minimise the effects of lockdown on patients, the team at The Pacific Eye Institute in Suva has partnered with other agencies to implement a series of innovative measures to support those with diabetes through the lockdowns.

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ Lead, Diabetes Eye Care, Dr Telaite Biu, said following the lockdowns in Fiji last year, the team noticed patients coming to The Foundation’s clinic with severe diabetic retinopathy (diabetes eye disease). Being in lockdown with restricted movement and reduced access to healthy food contributes to inadequate diabetes control, leading to diabetes eye disease. Diabetes eye disease, if not controlled, leads to irreversible blindness.

Acute diabetes eye disease patients are currently referred to Suva’s Colonial War Memorial Hospital for emergency laser surgery to halt further sight loss, however, they must undertake a COVID-19 test prior to being admitted. The necessary process of waiting for test results is delaying the time sensitive surgery resulting in further sight loss for these patients. A positive test result means surgery cannot proceed at all.

To minimise the rise or worsening of diabetes eye disease, the Fiji team is working with Diabetes Fiji and the Diabetes Hub to roll out diabetes awareness programmes. These initiatives include supporting a telemedicine platform allowing patients to order their medications over the phone. In addition, the Pacific Eye Institute team, alongside other NGO’s, is working to ensure patients can access medication, even if it means transporting the medications to them at home. Finally, the team contributes to a series of awareness campaigns, including radio reminders and text messages to the public regarding the importance of managing diabetes and diabetes eye disease.

“We know diabetes eye disease is one of the complications of diabetes, and we can only address it with a holistic approach,” said Dr Biu.

“By working in collaboration with the Fiji Ministry of Health and other diabetes-focused agencies and NGOs, we can remind Fijian’s of the importance of continued management of diabetes to avoid the onset of blindness and other serious health complications and make sure they have access to medication so important for diabetes management.”

You can learn more about the work The Foundation is doing to reduce avoidable blindness caused by diabetes eye disease here.

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