Economic trends

Blindness is on the rise – but we can fight it

With the right tools and training, avoidable blindness could be a thing of the past

Did you know that up to 80 per cent of the world’s blindness is avoidable?

Bringing this figure down has become a life mission for one pioneering professor.

An ophthalmologist based in the UK, Professor Peter Scanlon has been working for over 20 years to battle one of the leading causes of avoidable blindness – diabetic retinopathy (DR), a disease in which small blood vessels inside the retina are damaged due to diabetes. If untreated, it can lead to vision loss.

Peter has helped remove DR as the leading cause of blindness in working age people in England, something which hasn’t been done anywhere else except Iceland.

The Seeing is Believing Innovation Fund encourages innovators to develop pioneering ideas that have the potential to significantly impact how eye care is delivered

Leading the fight

With the help of our Seeing is Believing Innovation Fund, Peter is helping other countries tackle the global problem by training more doctors to detect and treat DR.

Initially launched in 2013, the Innovation Fund encourages innovators to develop pioneering ideas that have the potential to significantly impact how eye care is delivered in low- and middle-income countries. The fund recently launched its third phase, providing grants totaling more than USD1 million to 10 projects.

“Because training on DR around the world is not always as advanced as it is in developed nations, there can be an issue with screening. If eye doctors are not trained to detect the condition, people are not diagnosed until it is too late,” says Peter. “You can’t always treat an advanced case. At an earlier stage, you can stop people from going blind with a low-cost laser treatment.”

Peter and his team have received grants in all three phases of the Innovation Fund, providing vital support for a series of interlinked projects, from an initial pilot focused on web-based education on diagnosing DR in low-income countries, to the latest phase, which provides doctors with education and training in laser eye treatment.

Peter’s goal is to provide the training and tools for countries to fight diabetic retinopathy

The third wave of funding will allow Peter to expand his operations in China, which has the largest diabetes epidemic in the world. “Over 11.6 per cent of Chinese adults suffer from diabetes compared with around 5 per cent in the UK – that’s over 114 million people,” says Peter.

Ultimately, Peter’s goal is to provide the training and tools for countries across the globe to fight DR in the same way that he and his team have done in England. “It’s about making sure you can detect the problem,” he says, “and that the treatment is good. If we can take what we’ve learned to help others move in the right direction, hopefully they’ll be able to reduce avoidable blindness in their own populations.”

What is Seeing is Believing?

Launched in 2003, Seeing is Believing was established to celebrate our 150th anniversary. Employees wanted to do something that helped people in their communities, with avoidable blindness being highlighted as an important issue.

A mission was set – to raise enough funds for 28,000 cataract operations, the number of staff working for us at the time. In the end, staff raised enough for 56,000 operations, and our global community investment programme to tackle avoidable blindness – Seeing is Believing – was born.

For nearly 15 years we have raised funds to help improve access to eye care in communities where help is needed the most, with a focus on Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We are committed to raising USD100 million by 2020 and to date have reached over 133.8 million people.