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Lions Clubs International Foundation Lions Clubs International Foundation
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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy


LCIF assists Lions in fighting diabetes through two grant programs: SightFirst grant funding to support diabetic retinopathy programs and Core 4 funding support for diabetes programs.

The Problem

Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce or properly use insulin—the hormone responsible for converting food into energy for daily life. Nearly 5 million deaths each year are attributed to diabetes, and long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease and amputations.

Diabetic retinopathy, another complication of diabetes, is the result of damage to the blood vessels of the retina—the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. In some cases, the blood vessels swell and leak, while in others there is abnormal growth of new vessels. The disease usually affects both eyes and most often occurs in individuals who have had diabetes for many years.

Global Impact

Diabetic retinopathy accounts for nearly 5 percent of the world’s 39 million people who suffer from blindness, and has become a growing cause of vision loss in adults of working age (20-65) in industrialized countries. Once vision is lost from diabetic retinopathy, it cannot be restored. People lacking regular health care at retirement age and of minority background are considered most susceptible.

The number of people at risk for diabetic retinopathy is on the rise. Currently more than 382 million people have diabetes worldwide with the largest increase in recent years taking place in developing countries. Nearly half of all people with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy during their lifetime. After 15 years of living with diabetes, approximately 10 percent develop severe visual impairment and about 2 percent become blind.


Diabetic retinopathy can be avoided with prevention or good control of diabetes. Once diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed, progression of the disease and loss of vision can be reduced by 90 percent with improved control of diabetes and ongoing diabetic retinopathy treatment.

Treatment options include laser surgery to help shrink blood vessels in the retina or, in more serious cases, vitrectomy surgery to remove blood from the center of the eye. Rehabilitation and regular eye exams are critical to maximizing diabetic retinopathy treatment benefits.

SightFirst’s Work

Since 1995, SightFirst has approved US$2.8 million for 22 diabetic retinopathy projects in 11 countries where diabetic retinopathy is a significant public health concern: Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil, Chile, Fiji, India, Pakistan, Peru, Samoa, Spain and Venezuela. The projects have been comprehensive in nature with activities ranging from public education and professional training, to screening, treatment and low vision services.

SightFirst’s diabetic retinopathy accomplishments include:

  • Educating more than 1.5 million people
  • Training more than 2,000 professionals
  • Conducting more than 23,000 surgeries
  • Screening more than 140,000 patients

Funding Priorities

SightFirst remains committed to combating diabetic retinopathy. Priorities for projects include:

  • Identifying appropriate project sites: SightFirst will continue to support the development or expansion of diabetic retinopathy screening and treatment programs at well-established diabetes and eye care clinics that target underserved communities and do not detract from existing eye care services.
  • Diabetes care integration: Projects should serve those already diagnosed with diabetes, and diabetic retinopathy treatment should be part of their overall diabetes care. Also, projects should align with national diabetes prevention and treatment plans where they exist.
  • High quality programming: Projects must have strong evaluative, monitoring, tracking and cost sharing components.
  • Sustainable programming: Projects should include significant cost sharing in addition to SightFirst funding. Support might also include public/private partnerships and in-kind donations of human resources, consumables and facilities.
  • Lions engagement: Lions should have hands-on involvement as well as opportunities for advocacy.

In general, SightFirst projects must focus on the major causes of blindness on national or large regional levels. These projects reach populations who are underserved or who have limited or no access to eye health care services. The program funds high-quality, sustainable projects that deliver eye care services, develop infrastructure, train personnel and/or provide rehabilitation and education in underserved communities.


Find more information, including the SightFirst grant application, disease-specific questionnaires and long-range policy papers.

To learn more about the diabetic retinopathy statistics found on this page, please visit the following:
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