Australian report highlights the cost of diabetic eye disease

by Barbara Hewitt on June 25, 2015

The impact of diabetic eye disease on the economy and the ability of workers to carry out their jobs should not be underestimated, according to a major investigation carried out in Australia.

A new report shows that diabetic macular oedema (DME) is estimated to cost the country $2.07 billion in indirect economic costs with a significant portion due to reduced ability to work at full capacity and lost wellbeing caused by impaired vision.


Eyesight complications from diabetes could have a major impact on the future economy, say researchers

The impact is unlikely to lessen as in Australia alone the number of people living with diabetes is predicted to reach 2.45 million by 2030 and the prevalence of DME is estimated to rise by 42% over the next 15 years.

According to the report from the Deloitte, supported by Diabetes Australia and the Macular Disease Foundation, there needs to be coordinated national action to tackle the challenge now and reduce the likely future burden on the workforce, the Australian economy and the community.

‘DME is one of the leading causes of blindness for working age Australians and can prevent people from working at full capacity or, in the worst case, from working at all. In fact, 91% of the estimated $624.30 million indirect costs of DME in 2015 is projected to be caused by lower workforce participation, absenteeism and an estimated 218 premature and preventable deaths associated with the condition because of poor vision,’ said Lynne Pezzullo, the report’s author.

‘With an anticipated 42% rise in DME prevalence by 2030, if effective prevention and treatment were not in place, and with ongoing demographic ageing, we can expect the effects of this condition on productivity losses to be felt even more strongly in the future,’ she added.

According to Julie Heraghty, chief executive officer of the Macular Disease Foundation Australia, the increasing numbers are of major concern, as every person with diabetes is at risk of vision impairment.

‘Many Australians with diabetes don’t recognise they are at risk of blindness or the importance of maintaining regular eye tests when their risk actually increases over time,  even if they are managing their diabetes well,’ she pointed out.

‘Of concern is that only half undergo the recommended twice-yearly eye examinations, or more frequently for some people, even though early detection and timely treatment can prevent vision loss,’ she added.

Professor Greg Johnson, chief executive officer of Diabetes Australia, explained that much of this problem is preventable. ‘A large part of this adverse impact on people with diabetes, the community, productivity and wellbeing is preventable by a more coordinated, national approach to eye checks for people with diabetes,’ he said.

‘This report shows that if we could increase the number of people with diabetes having eye checks by 50%, then approximately 4,500 additional people with DME could be identified and potentially receive earlier treatment to prevent disease progression and prevent serious vision loss,’ he added.

The foundation is calling for a coordinated national partnership approach between government, patient organisations, clinicians, industry and the community. ‘This is needed to support early diagnosis of DME and improve the entire continuum of care from awareness and screening to treatment access and rehabilitation,’ said Heraghty.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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