Read: Philippines’ diabetes profile

The Philippine Centre for Diabetes Education Foundation (PCDEF) in 2016 reported that there are at least six million Filipinos who are diagnosed with diabetes. While this number is already worrisome, PCDEF president, Dr Augusto Litonjua said this is still merely an underestimation of the disease’s whole picture, as there remain many undiagnosed diabetic Filipinos.

It is no secret that early detection and prompt treatment are important in managing diabetes. However, due to underdiagnoses among Filipinos, many diabetic patients exhibit co-morbidities of the disease when they see a physician.

One of the most serious co-morbidity of diabetes that can be well prevented through early diagnosis is diabetic retinopathy (DR), or the diabetes-related complication that cause damage to the blood vessel of the retina that may lead to blindness. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, 2.6 percent of the global blindness can be attributed to diabetes.

In celebration of World Diabetes Day this November 14, 2017, we run down some key facts about diabetic retinopathy (DR) in the Philippines:

1. Some of the newly diagnosed diabetics are already affected

Presently, there is still no available local data on the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy in the Philippines—making it harder to measure the impact of the disease in the country. However, in a study by Dr Mia Fojas, et al published in 2009, they found that 12 percent of newly diagnosed diabetics in the Philippines (2 percent in Manila) already have clinically significant retinopathy.

2. Repeat testing is recommended for asymptotic individuals

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are not present during the early stages of the disease. As such, when symptoms present, cases of diabetic retinopathy have already advanced.

In a report by the UNITE FOR Diabetes Philippines, committee members suggested that diabetics patients must undergo annual screening.

The report recommended, “All individuals being seen at any physician’s clinic or by any healthcare provider should be evaluated annually for risk factors for type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.”

Risk factors include obesity, genetics/family history, prediabetes, and PCOS.

3. Added economic burden

According to a 2009 study by Michiyo Higuchi, the median cost of diabetic medicine in the country is around PHP 750, with an out-of-pocket hospitalisation cost of PHP 8,580. The study also indicated that there was a low utilisation of PhilHealth among the patients.

The study also reported that many diabetic Filipinos omitted items from their diabetes care because of financial difficulties—this is not including the disease’s co-morbidities.

“The complexity of diabetic eye disease is that it’s not just about eye diseases. It has implications for the overall management of diabetes,” said Dr Owen Hee Kim during the Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress 2017. “The more complications patients get from diabetes, the higher the cost.”

Kim adds that diabetic eye diseases ups all the other ancillary costs, whether it is inpatient, outpatient, or A&E cost.

“Ophthalmic complications are a significant burden in the society because of the cost,” Kim noted. MIMS

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