World Glaucoma Week

Posted on: Tuesday, 10th March, 2015
Heiko from CBM supported project in Tanzania examining someone's sight for glaucoma.

Pioneering African Glaucoma treatment trial – expert updates CBM supporters in Birmingham

World Glaucoma Week is held in March each year to increase awareness about glaucoma. This year World Glaucoma Week is on from 8 to 14 March 2015 which aims to raise global awareness of this disease. The theme this year is 'Beat Invisible Glaucoma'. Find out how CBM is using mobile phone technology and laser treatment to prevent and treat glaucoma across Africa.

CBM Glaucoma specialist Dr Heiko Philippin spoke about his pioneering work that could improve the way that Glaucoma is treated in sub-Saharan Africa, at an event for CBM supporters in Birmingham on Friday 20th February.

Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness worldwide. It leads to damage to the optic nerve and permanent blindness. Early diagnosis and treatment is vital to save a patient’s sight. Ophthalmologist Dr Philippin is based at the CBM-partner Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Tanzania, which sees 2000 patients with Glaucoma per year.

Thanks to a joint grant from Standard Chartered’s Seeing is Believing programme and CBM, Dr Philippin is trialling a treatment called Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT). SLT has been in use in the UK for several years, but this is the first time it is being trialled in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, eye drops are the main treatment used to treat Glaucoma in Tanzania, but this requires frequent return visits to hospital. For many patients who live in rural locations, travelling to hospital is difficult and they do not return for the continued sight-saving treatment. It is hoped that a single SLT treatment will last at least 2-3 years, providing a much more effective approach to treating the condition and patient would need to come less often for follow up exams.

Dr Philippin also highlighted the potential role of mobile phone technology in helping identify and diagnose eye conditions such as glaucoma when running mobile clinics. Taking the usual equipment to identify eye problems is impossible when travelling to remote areas, but with the PEEK mobile app and lens adapter, he could use a mobile phone to generate high resolution images of the eye, to use for diagnosis. PEEK is currently developed and evaluated by a team around Andrew Bastawrous including pilot studies at KCMC.

Dr Philippin, originally from Germany, developed the idea for looking at SLT laser treatment in Tanzania with Professor Peter Shah during a fellowship in Birmingham. He returned to the city to speak to CBM supporters about his work at KCMC, where he has worked since 2009.

Before moving to Tanzania with his family, Dr Philippin spent three years working for CBM at Sabatia Hospital, Western Kenya, running mobile eye clinics around Kenya and training local eye specialists. He is one of CBM’s team of leading global specialists, known as co-workers, who are based with partners in developing countries to provide professional assistance, train local staff and help develop local capacity.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause progressive damage to the optic nerve at the point where it leaves the eye to carry visual information to the brain. If left untreated, most types of glaucoma progress (without warning or obvious symptoms to the patient) towards gradually worsening visual damage and may lead to blindness. Once incurred, visual damage is mostly irreversible, and this has led to glaucoma being described as “the silent blinding disease” or the “sneak thief of sight”.

Due to the silent progression of glaucoma – at least in its early stages – up to 50% of people in the developed world are unaware that they have glaucoma. In the developing world this is probably closer to 90%. In 2013, CBM’s partners performed more than 23,000 operations to preserve sight.

Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness worldwide. It is estimated that 4.5 million people globally are blind due to glaucoma and that this number will rise to 11.2 million by 2020*.

* Source:World Health Organization data from www.who.int/blindness/causes/priority/en/

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