Charity should always begin at home, according to Dr Manal Omran Taryam, board member and chief executive of the Noor Dubai Foundation.
That is why the body is working with the Dubai Health Authority and the Ministry of Health to develop prevention programmes for vision problems through screening and education.
“Although the UAE, thank God, is not a country that needs support from a charity, we’re working with the Government to promote primary eye care, which is actually not available throughout the UAE,” Dr Taryam said.
One area of focus is diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can cause potentially irreversible damage to the retina and result in blindness.
With nearly a fifth of the UAE population suffering from diabetes, many people are at risk.
“People don’t usually experience symptoms, so a diabetic person would not notice they have the eye disease until the stage where we’re trying to save what is left of their eyesight, and that’s not prevention any more,” Dr Taryam said.
“That’s why the best way to tackle the problem is to prevent it rather than wait until someone goes blind and then treat him.”
A 2007 study of 513 diabetic patients by UAE University showed that while 19 per cent of patients had the condition, nearly three quarters were unaware of it.
But increased awareness and education over the past few years has reduced the number of advanced cases, Dr Taryam said.
“In my clinic in 2006 we were seeing a case of extreme diabetic retinopathy on a daily basis,” she said. “Right now we see them [about] once every three months getting operated. This is the impact education can make.”
The foundation is working with the health authority to provide electronic eye tests at every Dubai primary health centre, where many diabetics go for check-ups or to receive insulin.
The tests will not require an ophthalmologist and can be done without an appointment.
All the cameras will be electronically linked to an examination centre, where the results will be sent online to an ophthalmologist, who will analyse the results.
Diabetics will be eligible for this every three months, and the tests will be available by the end of this year.
Dr Taryam said more data was vital to improve treatment. “How do we know it’s not a big issue if we don’t have the statistics?”