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Late diabetes diagnosis could lead to eye sight loss


by Ejidiah Wangui

NAIROBI, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- Sitting on a wooden stool outside her house facing the gate to her home, you would think Grace Kaniaru is staring at the clear skies and probably watching the birds which seem to be enjoying the morning sun. But no, Kaniaru lost her eye sight three months ago and is still learning to adapt to her new life.

"I was forced to leave my career as a teacher, I have to rely on other people to help me perform even the smallest task like pouring tea into my cup, it happened so fast, and before I realized what was happening, I lost my eye sight," she told us during the interview at her home in Muchatha, Kiambu County.

Kaniaru says she was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago and has been on medication since then. All was well until October last year when her vision started to blur.

"I thought it was a normal eye problem, but little did I know that I could end up losing my eyesight. It was too late to save my sight as the disease was also detected at an advanced stage, this happened within two weeks only," says Kaniaru.

She is among other patients who have lost eye sight to diabetic complications in Kenya. Diabetes and cancer are fast becoming a health burden to the East African Nation.

And as new lifestyles and imported dietary practices become a part of life, diabetes, a disease which in some years back was referred to as a problem for the rich is slowly becoming an epidemic in Kenya if not in Africa.

It is estimated that one in every 20 people living in rural areas is likely to test positive for diabetes while one in every 10 among the urban dwellers suffer from the disease.

But sad is the fact that diabetes complications are leading cause of blindness in Africa, a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.

According to Dr Joseph Irungu who runs a clinic in Ruaka, Kiambu, people who suffer from diabetes for long are at a higher risk of getting diabetic retinopathy.

Dr. Irungu expresses concern that the number of Kenyans suffering from the disease is increasing by days saying that people need to be more careful on what they eat.

"Eye complications as a result of poorly managed diabetes are extremely common and only a fraction of people diagnosed with the disease undergo any form of eyeexamination," notes Irungu.

"The disease contributes to about 3 percent of blindness among the patients," he adds.

Irungu singles out hypertension, pregnancy and smoking as other conditions that may put one at a higher risk of diabetic retinopathy.

"In the last two years, I have seen four patients who lost eye sight to diabetic retinopathy, this has no warning signs, in most cases, patients suddenly lose vision," Irungu told us, adding that it is very important for people suffering from diabetes to take an eye test at least once in an year.

"All people with diabetes both type one and two are at risk. That is why everyone with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once in a year. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get diabetic retinopathy, " he says.

However, Irungu says if detected early, a simple eye procedure can be performed to prevent progression of the problem.

Irungu says people suffering from diabetes can act to prevent sight loss by ensuring they take the eye checks in reputable healthcare centers.

Quitting smoking and keeping blood glucose and blood pressure as close to normal also helps to reduce the possibility of any eye damage from occurring, he says.

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