Background: As part of a project to improve diabetes care in Fiji, we assessed the magnitude of problems posed by diabetic retinopathy in that country and compared the findings with those from an Australian diabetes centre. The relationship between diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy was also examined in a subset of patients.
Methods: A medical team from Australia screened a total of 446 type 2 diabetic patients (ethnicity: Fijian/Indian 16/84%) for diabetic retinopathy in five towns from the Division of Viti Levu, Fiji. The findings were compared with data obtained from 1659 type 2 diabetic patients who had attended an Australian diabetes centre (ethnicity Indian/ Anglo-Celtic 12/88%). In both cohorts, retinopathy was assessed by direct fundoscopy and a spot urine sample was collected for determination of albuminuria (defined as a concentration > 50 mg/L).
Results: The prevalence of diabetic retinopathy increased linearly with duration of diabetes. It was higher in Fiji, even when cases from the same ethnicity (i.e. Indians) and duration were compared (P < 0.05). Extrapolation of the data points suggests a delay in the diagnosis of diabetes in Fiji. Of those patients with retinopathy in Fiji, more than half had moderate to severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy or proliferative diabetic retinopathy, significantly higher than patients in the Australian cohort (chi2 = 29.2; P < 0.0001). Retinopathy was not a predictor of albuminuria in Fijian Indians (chi2 = 0.4; P = 0.5). In contrast, Australian Indians with retinopathy had significantly more albuminuria (chi2 = 10.2; P = 0.001).
Conclusions: Severe diabetic retinopathy is common in both ethnic groups in Fiji. A delay in the diagnosis of diabetes as well as poor glycaemic control are possible factors. The availability of laser therapy is important to prevent loss of vision, but it is also essential that appropriate training of health professionals is integrated with a programme of diabetic complication screening to support this form of therapy.