Working alongside the Health Ministry of Guyana and the University of Toronto, EyePACS has been privileged to receive an invitation to help save the vision of Guyanese diabetic patients. We will report, from time to time, on our progress there.
Guyana is a small country in the northern region of South America. Ninety percent of its population inhabits only 10% of its land mass - a narrow coastal strip which ranges from 10 to 40 miles across. It contains a unique blend of culture despite its small population of 780,000 people. That population today is racially and ethnically heterogeneous, the largest group having originated from India, with strong representation from Africa, Europe (particularly Dutch and English peoples), China and other areas. However, it is the only South American country in which English is the official language.
People with diabetes in Guyana face difficult challenges while trying to control their condition. While the diversity does provide culinary variety, the Guyanese diet revolves around sugary breads, rice and other foods that contribute to the high prevalence of diabetes. (Guyana has around 60,000 to 100,000 diabetics, all of whom should be screened for diabetic retinopathy annually.) Furthermore, as in many other public hospitals around the world, the diabetes clinic is overbooked and understaffed. Despite a diligent effort by the medical staff, some patients seeking treatment on any given day might be turned away.
Resident staff notes that patient confusion and insufficient communication are major inhibiters in the treatment process as well. The complexity of treatment and inconsistent communication with medical staff can overwhelm certain patients while they are trying to control their diabetes. In many cases non-compliance with recommended treatment can cause critical setbacks to adequate diabetes control. Similarly, a break in the screening and treatment process for retinopathy can be quite detrimental, since most preventive actions must be taken before retinopathy begins to affect a patient’s vision. EyePACS aims to support the efforts made to keep patients on track by providing equipment, training and maintenance of a proper diabetic retinopathy screening program.
When we traveled to Guyana for the first time in July 2016, we were fortunate to interact with bright, persevering and enthusiastic people. We trained two young and talented optometrists, Fiona Todd and Andrew Adams, who were eager to learn and implement the EyePACS system. They were each vocal about benefits EyePACS could provide, both clinically and academically, to the diabetes challenge in Guyana.
The program leadership in Guyana set an initial goal to complete 4,000 retinal screenings this year, with plans to increase their target to about 10,000 screenings per camera every year, once the program expands. They intend to use the information from the screenings to assist specialists with treatment and generate data for an epidemiological study of diabetes and retinopathy complications.
EyePACS was fortunate to be able to bring its services to the beautiful country of Guyana. We hope to see this harmonious connection grow as we continue to fight against blindness from diabetic retinopathy around the globe.