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Calls for Closer Cooperation in Tackling Diabetes in Fiji

New Research Calls for Closer Cooperation in Tackling Diabetes in Fiji
For immediate release: 26/6/2013

Research supported by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ sheds new light on the treatment of diabetes in the Pacific. The work of two University of Auckland graduate students underscores the unique challenges of providing health services to diabetes patients in Fiji. With growing concern over the rising number of diabetes sufferers in the Pacific, the research could contribute to a more coordinated approach to patient referral throughout the entire health system trying to deal with rising case numbers of Type 2 diabetes.

Billy Wu and Mai Ling Gregory will both present their findings at a University of Auckland, School of Population Health presentation on Friday the 28th of June. For Wu, whose thesis “Delivering diabetes eye care: a case study of the Pacific Eye Institute's Diabetes Eye Care Programme in Suva, Fiji”, the forum is a chance to make the case for closer integration of crucial players in the medical system.

“My participants consist of senior planners, strategists, and managers who would typically not be sitting together at a round-table to discuss their experiences and concerns,” says Wu. “They are all stakeholders in terms of delivering services to people with diabetes in Fiji.”

Wu travelled to Fiji and conducted his research with the support of The Foundation, working extensively at its eye care facility in Suva, the Pacific Eye Institute.

For Andrew Bell, Executive Director of The Foundation, the investment in research is part of a multi-pronged strategy to tackle avoidable blindness in the Pacific.

“Research is essential to our mission,” says Bell. “While we're best known for giving people back their sight and training local doctors and nurses, we need solid research and evidence to help guide our resolve.”

According to Wu, conditions in Fiji mean that health professionals are often required to be generalists given the limited to pool of specialists available in rural areas. Another recurring challenge in Fiji is the distances people have to travel to get good diabetes-related care. The high costs of travel combined with low-income communities mean that many patients do not get access to adequate services.

“The Ministry of Health in Fiji sees the need for a “diabetes hub” and is currently working towards this configuration in each of their divisional centres,” says Wu. “It’s like a one-stop shop of sorts to cater to the needs of diabetic patients, since a person with diabetes is at risk of a multitude of complications – eyes, foot, kidneys.”

Wu says that his findings will be useful in streamlining other systems across the Pacific to increase the efficiency of the international effort to address the problem of diabetes.

“In this particular case, the results of the study suggest that providing people with visual education and information about diabetes and its complications is instrumental in promoting first-contact which leads to follow-up and treatment,” says Wu.

For Bell, the research will be integrated into the long-terms plans at The Foundation.

“At the present rates of surgeries, we're hoping to dramatically reduce the cases of cataracts in the Pacific by 2020,” says Bell. “But our new diabetes centre in Suva along with research like Wu's means that we can improve our efforts in the current struggle with diabetes.”

Diabetic Retinopathy a complication of advanced Diabetes can cause irreversible blindness if left untreated. Elevated blood-sugar levels cause the delicate blood vessels around the retina to burst, diminishing and then impairing vision.

According to Bell, early intervention with laser treatment increases the chances of preserving sight.

Recent studies have suggested that nearly 25% of the population in Fiji suffer from diabetes. In 2012 there were over 5400 consultations through the Diabetes Centre at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva.

Wu and Gregory present the findings of their research at The University of Auckland’s Tamaki Campus, Room 730-373, on the 28th June 2013 between 3:00 and 4:00pm.


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