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Harnessing technology to fight against diabetic retinopathy


The world is facing a silent epidemic of diabetes that claims around 42 lakh lives around the world every year. Globally, around 53 crore adults are living with this disease and facing the risks of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation that can result as complications of this condition.

India shoulders a burden of over 7 crore diabetics, ranking it second place globally. While we are aware that diabetes or diabetes mellitus affects various parts of the human body, the chronic disease also harms our eyes and results in a condition called Diabetic Retinopathy which could lead to an irreversible deterioration in vision. This complication of diabetes is caused by increased sugar levels that lead to damage to the retina. Diabetic retinopathy is prevalent in around 17% of the Indian Diabetic population. When left untreated, this can cause permanent blindness adding to the socio-economic burden of the country.

Early detection is key to managing any disease and so is it when it comes to the prevention of permanent vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy. Studies have shown a high prevalence of vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy (VTDR) in India, with 4% of diabetics aged above 40, and around 3 million diabetics estimated to be at risk of blindness. The numbers clearly indicate the urgent need for spreading awareness about Diabetic Retinopathy and for effective screening and management to be made accessible across the country.

Today, innovation in medical technology has progressed in the identification of risks of developing diabetes with AI algorithms and early detection with flash glucose monitors. One of the key inventions to aid early diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy is the development of the Non-mydriatic Fundus Camera.

The Non-mydriatic Fundus Camera (NMFC) captures high-resolution images of the retina. Timely identification of Diabetic Retinopathy in patients with this technology can help in the early initiation of management and treatment of the disease and prevention of permanent vision loss. If any retinopathy is detected, the patient can then be referred to a retina specialist and vision loss can be avoided. Such technology when put to use can positively impact India’s eye-care landscape.

Additionally, NMFC also captures a large amount of data that is key to driving further research in the treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy. This helps ophthalmologists to monitor the progression of the disease and the effect of the treatment using this technology.

Standard eye check-ups involve dilating the pupil with eye drops. This process has minor disadvantages and takes 10-20 minutes for the drops to take effect, blurs the patient’s vision and makes the patient sensitive to light for many hours post-dilation. NMFC overcomes these disadvantages by capturing images of the retina without pharmacological pupil dilation. This helps patients observe the condition of their retina and get instant awareness for a quick referral to the specialists who can identify and initiate necessary treatment if needed on an immediate basis.

Hence, NMFC is a successful example of how technology and innovation can help in addressing a major health challenge called diabetic retinopathy. It is for public and private healthcare to take the initiative and adopt this technology on a large scale. This is being adopted as a protocol in several eye hospitals. Every eye check for adults should include an NMFC report and especially diabetics must undergo screening for diabetic retinopathy at least once a year.

Introducing such technology across healthcare settings from Primary Health Centres to community-based screening, and from opportunistic screening usually done in clinics, pharmacies or medical laboratories to hospitals. As many patients with diabetes are asymptomatic, detection of diabetic retinopathy can also lead to the diagnosis of diabetes and help fulfil the vision of a diabetes-free India.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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