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Historic chance to reduce diabetic blindness

30/09/2019By Callum Glennen
Australia’s ophthalmic sector has been urged to rally behind the KeepSight diabetes eye check reminder program and speak with a single voice, as the campaign continues to develop both in terms of momentum and registrations.

Advocates from Diabetes Australia, KeepSight, Specsavers and the wider ophthalmic sector declared it a historic opportunity to reduce Australia’s rates of diabetic blindness at the recent Specsavers Clinical Conference 8 (SCC8) in Melbourne. There is also hope the program could emulate the success of a UK program, where concerted efforts over the past 20 years resulted in diabetic blindness ceasing to be the leading cause of blindness in adults of working age.

Professor Peter Scanlon, of the University of Oxford and NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Program, endorsed the merits of enhanced screening and communication. Speaking to SCC8 delegates, Scanlon said the current situation in Australia is strikingly similar to what he witnessed in the UK throughout the 1990s. People with diabetes were first presenting to clinicians with very late stages of vision loss, often leaving major surgery as the only treatment option.

However, thanks to a broad, standardised screening program designed to identify people with the earliest stages of diabetic retinopathy, prompt treatment has successfully reduced rates of diabetic blindness throughout the UK. Now, hereditary retinal disorders are the leading cause of blindness, and Scanlon said people are no longer presenting for the first time with late stage diabetic retinopathy.

Scanlon also emphasised that success was only possible thanks to collaboration across the eyecare sector, with the entire industry speaking and lobbying with a single voice. Local advocates hope the KeepSight program will produce a similar effect in Australia over the next decade.

Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden, clinical director of KeepSight and deputy director of CERA, stressed that the program is about helping people with diabetes manage their condition, and believes Australia could join the UK in stopping first time patients presenting with late stage disease.

Patient registrations were slow following KeepSight’s launch earlier this year, however its recent integration into the patient referral platform used by Specsavers has significantly increased numbers. With almost 15,000 people now registered and a public media campaign about to be deployed, van Wijngaarden hopes that 200,000 people could be registered within the next year.

The Australian government has provided five years of funding for the KeepSight program, with additional support coming from Vision 2020, Bayer and Novartis. Specsavers has also committed $1 million per year for the next five years.


IMAGE CAPTION: (from left) Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson, Specsavers group eye health strategy director Mr Peter Larsen, NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Program clinical director Professor Peter Scanlon, CERA deputy director Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden.

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