Experts from Swansea University and Queen’s University, Belfast have helped to bring life-changing eye care to people with diabetes in Bermuda.
Bermuda is an island with a population of approximately 64,000 people with around 13 per cent known to have diabetes.
Healthcare provision there relies on a private health care system. Unfortunately, many people do not have health insurance or are under-insured. Therefore, having vital health checks and treatment for chronic medical conditions such as diabetes causes severe financial hardship, and many simply go without.
Professor David Owens and Dr Becky Thomas, from Swansea University Medical School, were part of the specialist team, along with Catherine Jamison from Belfast, which travelled to the Bermudan capital of Hamilton to carry out a week of free diabetic eye screening.
Professor Owens is the clinical lead for diabetes-related retinopathy with the Diabetes Research Group Swansea based at the University, while Dr Thomas is a Senior Lecturer in Population Health and Medical Sciences and Co-Programme Director for MSc Diabetes Practice. Catherine Jamison is a Senior Ophthalmic Image Analyst in Belfast.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina) and can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated.
Working out of the Bermuda Diabetes Association headquarters and the Patient-Centred Medical Home (PCMH) clinic at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, the team screened a total of 171 people with diabetes.
Each participant completed a health questionnaire and also had their height, weight, blood glucose and blood pressure measured. They then underwent a visual acuity test followed by images taken with special handheld cameras, loaned by Finnish health care technology company Optomed.
The team said: “We observed quite a high incidence of diabetic retinopathy, along with several other pathologies that merited onward referral to ophthalmologists. Grading of the retinal images has been completed and results are currently being analysed.“
The Bermuda Diabetes Association is now working with several ophthalmologists who will provide free follow-up appointments for those referred. Other charities including Lions International and Vision Bermuda will help to pay for treatment where it is needed.
The team added: “It was a very busy and productive week – more than 80 per cent of individuals with diabetes who had booked a screening slot attended, and they were all very appreciative to be getting assessed free of charge.
“We would like to thank the Bermuda Diabetes Association, all the volunteers who assisted over the week, and Optomed who helped make the trip such a success.”
The team also acknowledged the support received from the universities for this important project. It is now hoped another visit will take place later this this year to continue work to establish a permanent Diabetes Eye Screening Programme in Bermuda.