Professor Shahina Pardhan
Director of Vision and Eye Research Institute, Anglia Ruskin University
Researchers show that vision loss due to diabetes can be largely prevented with culturally and linguistically appropriate information.
Many people with diabetes know that blindness is a major risk of uncontrolled diabetes. People of Asian and Black ethnicities, older people and those who have had diabetes for a long time, have an even higher risk.
It’s tempting to assume that the higher risk for South Asian and Black people is genetic in origin, but now we know it’s not necessarily the case.
Professor Shahina Pardhan, from the Vision and Eye Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University says: “Our research shows that sight-threatening retinopathy is higher in South Asians, even when age and duration of diabetes are taken into account. We have shown that the high risk in South Asians and Black people is less genetic in nature and more to do with lifestyles. Once we knew this, we decided to research the causes and take action to tackle them.”
For people with diabetes, it is important that good diabetic control is maintained in order to reduce the risk of complications such as blindness. Regular retinal screening is also vital as it will reduce the risk of blindness by 60-90%.
Barriers preventing actions
Professor Pardhan explains: “We found that people of South Asian origin reported a number of barriers that influenced their capacity to maintain good diabetic control. These included lower awareness of the fact that uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of blindness, as well as lower literacy around physical activity and diet.”
Very few patients who were at higher risk of diabetic-related blindness had attended the existing diabetic training programmes, citing language barriers and the fact that they were not culturally appropriate. Other barriers included a lack of awareness that diabetes could still be affecting the eyes despite good vision, as well as the idea that attending retinal screening appointments would lead to having to buy new spectacles.
“This suggests that the current diabetes training programmes are not ‘fit for purpose’ for everyone,“ says Professor Pardhan.
Creating a more accessible campaign
Professor Pardhan decided to launch a campaign programme to tackle the issue. She says: “We have worked with multi-disciplinary teams to develop linguistically appropriate video-based training programmes delivered in Urdu, Nepali and Hindi. Using community champions, these have been delivered at grassroot levels in mosques, community centres, temples and on radio and TV programmes in the UK and overseas. It is also used in hospitals on newly diagnosed people with diabetes.”
“To date they have helped over 125,000 people globally, by improving health literacy and changing behaviour, including improved uptake of retinal screening. Health literacy using culturally-appropriate training helps to reduce the risk of blindness due to diabetes.”