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Diabetes sight loss epidemic on its way

Media release 23 July 2003
For immediate release

Diabetes sight loss epidemic on its way

“Sight loss through diabetes has the potential to become an epidemic in some New Zealand communities”, says Anthony Haas, president of Retina New Zealand.

Mr Haas, whose organisation is partnering with the New Zealand Association of Optometrists (NZAO) and the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) in August’s month-long Save Our Sight (SOS) campaign – says diabetes is one of the most common diseases affecting New Zealanders’ eyesight.

“Diabetes affects a startling number of people in this country. One hundred and fifty thousand New Zealanders have diabetes, and another one hundred thousand more remain at risk although they are unaware of it,” says Mr Haas.

“It is important that diabetics realise that there is a strong link between the disease and going blind and be extra vigilant about their eye health”.

Mr Haas says that Pacific Island people and Maori are more likely to develop diabetes than Europeans are, and currently Diabetic Retinopathy causes 80% of blindness among Pacific people in New Zealand. Diabetic Retinopathy is also responsible for the onset of cataracts.

Research shows that this situation will worsen over the next ten years.

“Diabetes is the concern that is currently confronting our community,” says Taito Phillip Field, New Zealand’s first Pacific Island Member of Parliament.

Mr Field continues, “It is really sad because it is a preventable illness. Pacific Islanders need to be educated about how to look after their eyes. They need to attend more eye check ups.”

All organisations involved believe that blindness resulting from diabetes can be prevented through a combination of education and working within local communities.

Dr Finau of the Tongan Health Society hopes to get communities to work together to deal with the problem of diabetes among Pacific peoples.

“We need services to be locally driven so that there is a wider understanding of what the concerns are and what needs to be done,” he says.

Dr Finau adds “If people are more knowledgeable about the risk factors associated with eye disease, they are more likely to use existing or their own culturally appropriate health services. But everyone needs to remember that managing diabetes includes looking after your diet and making sure you get regular exercise.”

The 2003 SOS campaign is officially launched in Parliament on 31 July 2003 and runs through to the end of August.

A public awareness campaign, Save Our Sight (SOS) 2003 aims to highlight the importance of regular eye checks to New Zealanders. Eye health really is an important health issue for all New Zealanders and should be a priority for all families from a very early stage.

An initiative of the NZAO in partnership with the RNZFB and Retina New Zealand, the Save Our Sight campaign promotes the message that when it comes to the deterioration of one’s eyesight, prevention really is better than cure.

- ends -

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