Steming the Rise in Diabetic Retinopathy in Indonesia

Since 2009, Helen Keller International has been at the forefront of the fight to stem the rise in diabetic retinopathy in Indonesia. Diabetic retinopathy is damage caused to the retina by complications of diabetes, which can lead to blindness. Along with familiar symptoms of diabetes, more and more adults across Indonesia are afflicted with sudden loss of vision, unaware that the condition is caused by their diabetes.

In the capital Jakarta, we are working with RumahSakitCiptoMangunkusumo (RSCM), the largest hospital in Indonesia, to raise awareness about diabetic retinopathy and the need for vision screenings among both patients and medical professionals. RSCM serves Indonesians from various economic backgrounds but the majority of its patients are poor and unaware of the health risks associated with diabetes. More than a third of registered diabetics at the hospital are known to have diabetic retinopathy, but for each diagnosed case there are a thousand others that go unchecked.

Preventative Vision Screenings in Indonesia

As one of very few non-profits providing access to diabetic retinopathy screenings in Indonesia, we have conducted 4200 vision screenings over the past three years, reaching about 1% of the country’s diabetic population. We are currently screening about 300 patients daily and performing retinopathy laser surgeries on up to 80 patients daily, all services provided free of charge.

Before we launched our program, most screenings for diabetic retinopathy in Indonesia took place when loss of vision had already started to occur. With its focus on preventative screenings and education, our program helps make screenings a regular part of a health checkup, especially for diabetics registered in the national health system.

Public Information Campaigns

We are also leading public information campaigns urging patients to demand regular vision screenings from their doctors and working with medical communities to promote the inclusion of eye screening as part of regular health checkups.

Sri Siswant’s Story

Sri Siswanti, a retired high school teacher from outside Jakarta, is among those lucky enough to catch the disease in its early stages. Although she was first diagnosed with diabetes in 1993, she was not screened for diabetic retinopathy until 2013. She says she had been diligent about managing her diabetes but her doctor never informed her about the associated risks of diabetic retinopathy. She suspected that something was wrong with her vision when she began to experience floaters when reading. Eye floaters are tiny spots, specks and flecks that drift aimlessly around one’s field of vision. She was referred to RSCM for treatment because her local hospital, like many throughout Indonesia, does not have the laser equipment needed for treatment of diabetic retinopathy.

“I had no idea you could go blind from diabetes,” gasped Atin, a 21- year old with diabetes, who visited RSCM after being referred to our program by the hospital’s endocrinology clinic. While Atin was aware of her diabetes and her family’s history with the disease, she was surprised to learn that she was at great risk of losing her sight because of it. “At first I was scared,” she said, “but I’m glad I came today. It’s really important for more people, especially my age, to learn more about diabetes and the complications. I always thought it was just older people that had to worry.”

More About Diabetes

Find out more about management of diabetes. And check out our diabetes guides available in English and Spanish