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Research highlighting diabetes epidemic welcomed

The Fred Hollows Foundation welcomes new research highlighting diabetes epidemic

For immediate release

AUCKLAND: March 1st 2013

The Fred Hollows Foundation welcomes new research released by the University of Otago today which draws attention to the diabetes epidemic and its devastating consequences, including eye disease and vision loss.

The research, which revealed that 20 per cent of adult New Zealanders are facing the prospect of developing diabetes, also highlighted the distressing fact that Pacific Islanders are almost three times more likely to develop diabetes than their New Zealand European counterparts.

“We welcome this research as it backs up our own findings in the Pacific Islands where incidence rates of diabetes are amongst the highest in the world,” says Andrew Bell, Executive Director of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.

“Research undertaken by The Foundation in 2009 revealed that more than 40 per cent of adults aged 40 years and over in Fiji have the disease. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation have been identified as major contributors, and in Fiji there is also evidence of a predisposition to the disease in the Indo-Fijian population.”

Here in New Zealand, the high rates of diabetes in Pacific Island communities can likely be attributed to the same causes.

“The situation here and in the Pacific needs urgent attention,” says Mr Bell. “While people living in the Pacific are much more likely to suffer from vision loss caused by diabetic retinopathy, we are also very concerned about the impact of diabetes on the eye health of all New Zealanders.”

Diabetic retinopathy can cause irreversible vision loss and The Foundation recommends that all Kiwis get their eyes checked regularly, especially if they already have diabetes. Eye examinations can also help with detecting undiagnosed diabetes and other conditions like glaucoma.

“What many people don’t realise is that a staggering 80 per cent of diabetes deaths worldwide occur in low and middle income countries, including the Pacific Islands, where the risk of developing complications such as blindness, amputation and kidney failure is significantly higher than here in New Zealand,” says Mr Bell. “In fact, the Fiji Ministry of Heath predicts that as many as one in four people will go blind from the disease unless they receive timely treatment.”

“The reality is that developing world health systems are simply not equipped to deal with the magnitude of the epidemic,” he continued. “Having said that, it is also very important to consider the long term impact of the epidemic on our own health systems here in New Zealand.”

The Fred Hollows Foundation has recently stepped up its efforts to combat diabetes related eye disease in the Pacific. To find out more visit


About The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ

The Fred Hollows Foundation carries on the work of a very special New Zealander, the late Professor Fred Hollows (1929-1993). Fred was an internationally acclaimed eye surgeon and social justice activist who championed the right of all people to high quality and affordable eye care. The Fred Hollows Foundation shares Fred’s vision of a world where no one is needlessly blind and works in more than 29 developing countries across Asia, Africa and the Pacific. In the last five years alone, The Foundation has performed nearly one million sight-restoring operations and treatments, and trained more than 38,000 local eye health workers.

The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ works predominantly in the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste where 4 out of 5 people who are blind don’t have to be. Often their sight can be restored with a simple 20 minute operation costing as little as $25 in some countries. The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ is funded by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. Find out more at

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