Diabetes and Retinopathy

Some 11.3 per cent of adults in Singapore suffer from diabetes, and about one in three of them are afflicted with diabetic retinopathy (DR), which causes fluid to leak into the eyeball.


Dr Kevin Tan, Vice-President of the Diabetic Society of Singapore, said DR is the most common cause of blindness in adults aged 20 to 40. The prevalence of the condition is strongly related to prolonged periods of high blood sugar levels.

“Other contributors are high blood pressure and the concomitant presence of kidney complications,” he said. “DR is preventable through good control of diabetes and blood pressure. Early detection of DR through regular screening can help delay the onset of blindness.”

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) screening

In the past, Patients had to go to polyclinics or hospitals for screening to detect the condition, which could take a few hours, including queuing time and waiting for the doctor. The photographs might take days to be analysed, and feedback given to patients, sometimes at the next appointment, could be weeks or months later.

Patients suspected of suffering from DR – which can cause blindness if it’s not treated in time – had to get their eyes screened at a polyclinic or hospital. If they were diagnosed with DR, they would be referred to an eye specialist.

“An alternative would be to ta​p on trained non-physician technicians to reduce their burden,” said Professor Wong Tien Yin, Medical Director and Chair, EYE-ACP, Senior Consultant, Medical Retina Department (Retina Centre),Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), a member of the SingHealth group.

Professor Wong, who is the Provost’s Chair Professor of Ophthalmology, NUS; Vice Dean, Office of Clinical Sciences and Head, Academic Medicine, Research Institute, Duke-NUS Graduate School of Medicine said Family doctors in many countries, including those in Singapore, can actually analyse the eye photographs, but are just too busy to do this for all diabetic patients.

Click on page 2 to read about a pilot program by SERI​.​

Ref: O17​