Ophthalmic experts at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge UK have been hired to conduct a nationwide survey by the Trinidad and Tobago Government where eye disease triggered by diabetes is a major problem.
It is the first comprehensive eye study to be carried out in the country for 80 years.
The National Eye Survey of Trinidad and Tobago (NESTT) will see Anglia Ruskin work in partnership with the University of the West Indies. The first phase of NESTT will be a population-based survey of eye disease involving 7,000 randomly chosen subjects.
As well as helping to co-ordinate the NESTT programme, Professor Rupert Bourne, from Anglia Ruskin's Vision and Eye Research Unit (VERU), is leading the Vision Loss Group for the World Health Organisation's Global Burden of Disease Study.
Professor Bourne said: “The purpose of NESTT is to discover where the unmet needs are within Trinidad and Tobago. Anglia Ruskin staff will be the scientific advisors for NESTT and we are currently assembling a team to work alongside the University of the West Indies.
“The Caribbean has very little data on this subject; in fact there hasn't been a study in this region for about 20 years. This Trinidad and Tobago project, which will take two years to complete, should help to fill a hole of knowledge that has been exposed by the Global Burden of Disease Study.”
Trinidad and Tobago's Minister of Health, Dr Fuad Khan, added: “The area of eye care has been identified as a pressing issue in Trinidad and Tobago. One area the Ministry of Health of Trinidad and Tobago hopes to address is the lack of data on eye health and blindness.
“One of the things we do know is that 70 per cent of the eye surgeries performed in Trinidad and Tobago is for the removal of cataracts. Approximately 2,500 cataract extractions per year are performed at our public hospitals, with approximately 3,000 new cases being presented annually. Because of this long waiting time, up to two years in some regions, many people become blind or visually impaired due to this readily treatable condition.
“The last, admittedly incomplete, assessment of blindness in Trinidad and Tobago took place in 1932. Without an evidence base, it is extremely difficult to effectively plan a program of eye care which reaches across the population as a whole.”
Trinidad and Tobago has the highest rate of diabetes in the Caribbean, with the disease believed to be affecting as many as one in five of the population.
Dr Khan added: “Diabetes is not only a major cause of admissions to our hospitals, as there are many health complications linked to the disease, but according to World Health Organisation reports, after 15 years of diabetes approximately two per cent of people become blind, and about 10 per cent develop severe visual impairment.
“The large numbers of the population presenting with cataracts is also linked to this high prevalence of diabetes in Trinidad and Tobago.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Professor Rupert Bourne