Moorfields’ partnership with Kerala to prevent blindness caused by diabetes in India

A leading expert from Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology joined Kerala state ministers in India to mark the launch of innovative project which aims to prevent blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy. 

Professor Sobha Sivaprasad, medical retina consultant at Moorfields Eye Hospital, was invited by the health secretary for Kerala, Mr Rajeev Sadanandan, to the Kerala Study launch last week where she was joined by Kerala’s health minister, K. K. Shailaja, who highlighted how the study will enable diabetic retinopathy screening at primary care level.

Professor Sobha Sivaprasad with Kerala's health minister, K.K. ShailajaProfessor Sobha Sivaprasad with Kerala's health minister, K.K. Shailaja.

The Kerala Study is part of the ORNATE-India project which was launched last year following a £6.3m grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund and UK Research and Innovation to trial new cost-effective tests that could help to prevent blindness in India. 

Professor Sobha, said: “Projects such as this can make a real difference to people’s lives, particularly in areas like Kerala where one if five of the population is diabetic and at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. 

“The funding the project received has meant that we’ve already built research capacity and capability so we can carry out a pilot study. We’ve trained doctors and nurses at regional Family Health Centres to diagnose diabetic retinopathy using smartphone retinal cameras, optometrists to grade retinal images and ophthalmologists at district hospitals to treat the condition.” 

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common complication of diabetes, when blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye deteriorate. It’s estimated that 69 million people in India suffer from diabetes and diabetic retinopathy affects around 22 per cent of the population.

 The main challenges to diabetic retinopathy screening in India are the lack of skilled human resources, poor access to diabetic retinopathy imaging and treatment infrastructure, as well as the absence of a referral system.

 By increasing research capacity and capability through the ORNATE-India study, Moorfields Eye Hospital aims to develop a clinically cost-effective diabetic retinopathy care pathway using smartphone technology and evaluate innovative technologies based on machine learning. These technologies can be applied to all low middle income countries with prospects of reverse innovation in the UK. In addition risk modelling of diabetes and its complications in ethnic groups globally will be developed and validated.

 The Global Challenges Research Fund is investing £1.5 billion in 37 projects over the next four years to build upon research knowledge in the UK and stimulate research on the challenges faced by developing countries.

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