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Eyeing-up a Kiwi health success

MEDIA RELEASE

30 January 2004

Eyeing-up a Kiwi health success

International health ministers today saw a health success story, which is saving money and saving sight for 11,500 people with diabetes in Wellington, Kapiti Coast, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa.

Health ministers from 15 countries attending the third International Forum on Common Access to Healthcare stepped out from their conference room to eye up the free retinal screening programme developed by the New Zealand Association of Optometrists (NZAO) and the Wellington Independent Practitioners Association (WIPA).

Optometrist and NZAO councillor, Geoff Sargent (right), conducted a retinal screen on Steve Marriott of Paparangi in Wellington. Viewing the procedure are health ministers (from left) Dr Pedro Garcia of Chile and Hon Annette King with British Associate Health Minister, Lord Norman Warner.

Geoff Sargent said he was delighted the programme, which won the inaugural Supreme Award for Health Innovation, was shown to visiting health ministers.

People in the greater Wellington region with diabetes now have early access to regular retinal screening to check for diabetic-related eye disease, the cause of six percent of preventable blindness within New Zealand. Previously retinal screening was only provided at hospitals and the waiting lists were long and not everyone who needed to be screened was screened. In the year prior to the programme commencing less than 800 people were screened, in the first year of the programme almost 4000 people were screened.

The screening programme is part of the diabetes annual review initiative which allows health professionals to track the progress of diabetes in each patient.

The digital picture taken of the eye enables the optometrist to identify changes to the fine blood vessels in the retina, a key sign of eye disease, and refer the patient to an

ophthalmologist if necessary. Treatment and lifestyle changes can be made before permanent damage and visual loss leading to blindness occur.

Russell Finnerty, President of Diabetes New Zealand, said eye screening is an integral part of diabetic management, and the programme was working.

"It's a cost effective way and speedy way of delivering a necessary service. People with diabetes are finding it easy to use as shown by the huge increase in screening uptake by the community with 97 percent turning up for screening.

"We commend this approach to other District Health Boards that may be finding it difficult to deliver the required services within their budgets," said Mr Finnerty.

Ends

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