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The Khayelitsha Eastern Substructure of the Western Cape health department has launched clinic-based eye screening services. In partnership with Orbis International, the substructure officially launched retinopathy screening services for diabetic patients on Wednesday. The purpose of screening is to identify people with diabetes who are at risk of developing sight-threatening diabetic complications.

“Many of our chronic disease patients including the diabetic, if they’re not on controlled medication, tend to end up with other debilitating diseases and one of them is diabetic retinopathy – the loss of eyesight,” said James Kruger, the director of Khayelitsha Eastern Substructure. “In all poor communities in the Western Cape generally, diabetes is a huge problem,” he added. “In coloured or African communities, diabetes and hypertension or TB or HIV and diabetes is a huge problem because of the way our people eat,” Kruger said.

Dr Deon Minnies said that previously, residents of Khayelitsha and surrounding areas had to be referred to the Tygerberg or Groote Schuur hospitals. The opening of eye screening services closer to home, he said, will reduce not only the bottle neck in services but also save patients the distance and travel.

Zelipha Nosamkele Zihlwele, a diabetic patient from Michael Mapongwana clinic did her screening on the day of the launch and expressed how happy she is that the new screening procedure is easier and instant compared to the former. “I have been living with diabetes for 32 years and this is my fifth screening. Sometimes we’re told that the screening is fully booked for the day, but now I can easily come and receive my results instantly without long queues.”

The director of Orbis International, Professor Nathan Congdon said that the retinopathy screening services offer lasik treatment which helps eliminate up to 95% of blindness if applied in time. “We have a terrific high-quality service right here in Khayelitsha now; there’s no need any longer for people to wait on a long waiting list or have to go all the way to Cape Town.”

Diabetes kills more people in South Africa every year than HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined. It also affects vision; diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of blindness among working age people, according to Congdon. Even though they help treat diabetic eye disease, they have to work collaboratively with people who help treat the whole patient body. “You can’t create a healthy eye in a sick body,” he argues. This program encourages diabetic people to get screened and check their blood sugar and their general health.