By Shahzad Feroze Noon
In the Information Age, one’s most valued asset is one’s eyesight. As such, it is important to maintain one’s eyesight and prevent blindness and vision impairment. Globally, among 7.79 billion people living in 2019, an estimated 49.1 million were blind and among those, a staggering 80% was from avoidable causes. Diabetic Retinopathy is one of these causes (Source: Community Eye Health Journey).
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
An adverse effect of long-term and unchecked Diabetes, Diabetic Retinopathy is one of the fastest-growing causes of blindness in the world. Approximately 463 million people in the world suffer from Diabetes and 80% of them have a risk of going blind due to complications from Diabetic Retinopathy. However, at least 90% of these cases could be reduced with proper treatment and monitoring of the eyes. The key to prevent blindness is regular screening (once a year as recommended by medical officers worldwide) because this condition is asymptomatic, i.e. the condition develops without any symptoms at first and the patient may get to a point of vision loss at the final stage of the disease which is irreversible.
Diagnosis of DR
DR can be diagnosed by visual examination of retinal images to detect the most common pathological features such as microaneurysms, haemorrhage, exudates and neovascularization. This process is manual and time-consuming and the outcomes depend on the examiner’s perspective. Thus, there’s a potential bias in the examiner’s decision. Once the pathological signs are identified, these examinations can be used to identify different disease stages such as “No DR”, “Moderate DR’’, “Proliferative DR” etc.
With the increasing number of Diabetic patients in the world, the need for eye screening is growing worldwide. A shortage of ophthalmologists who are experts in eye screening has become a major problem worldwide. In a US study, it was estimated that by 2029, around 20% of the American population will be over the age of sixty-five. Therefore, it has been presumed that the demand for ophthalmology care in the next two decades will be higher than ever before because diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and DR are all age-related eye diseases.
Screening is a way of identifying healthy people who may have an increased risk of a particular condition. Vision screening, also called an eye test, is a brief exam that looks for potential vision problems and eye disorders. An ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye health) would perform an eye screening to identify different diseases related to vision impairment. Here, a retinal image of the eye (taken by a fundus camera), is examined thoroughly to detect eye conditions like Diabetic Retinopathy, Glaucoma, AMD, hypertensive retinopathy etc.
Automatic Eye Screening is a way of identifying any eye disease using a software application, without the help of an eye specialist. The system examines the retinal image and automatically generates reports related to the eye condition. The patient could use the generated report and get necessary treatments based on the outputs of the report.
With AES Vs Without AES
Ophtha AES is an automatic eye screening application which mainly focuses on detecting DR. It is a cloud-based system where anybody can upload the retinal images of the eye/s to the system from anywhere in the globe and get the full report of the disease condition in a very short period of time. Image processing techniques of AI are used for the segmentation of different pathological features of the retinal image and deep-learning techniques in artificial neural networking have been used to identify different stages of DR.
How Treating Diabetic Retinopathy Helps a Country Achieve Sustainable Development Goals?
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to build a healthier world for the entire population and the environment by 2030. The 17 SDGs and 169 targets are integrated which mean they recognise that action in one area will affect outcomes in the others. Vision makes an important contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and cuts across many of the Sustainable Development Goals; from poverty reduction to economic growth and employment to education, gender and reducing inequalities. It is therefore critical that countries adopt a whole-of-government approach to vision and include eye health in their implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals at the national level.
With the use of Ophtha AES to detect and treat Diabetic Retinopathy, the following Sustainable Development Goals will be achieved;
- No poverty – Vision loss costs the global economy $411 billion every year in lost productivity alone.
- Zero hunger – Eyecare can increase household income and reduce hunger: 46% of households moved up an income bracket following cataract surgery.
- Good health and well-being – Poor eye health increases the risk of mortality up to 2.6 times.
- Climate action – The health sector, including eye care, is responsible for 4.4% of all greenhouse gas emissions and has other impacts on the environment. Climate change may also increase the prevalence of eye conditions and disrupt eye care delivery.
Why Should We Care About SGDs?
The SDGs provide worldwide guidance for addressing the global challenges facing the international community. It is about better protecting the natural foundations of life and our planet everywhere and for everyone and preserving people’s opportunities to live in dignity and prosperity across generations.