Esther has the chance to save her sight thanks to artificial intelligence

They say that knowledge is power, and for Esther, a diabetes patient from Rwanda, this has certainly been the case. Esther recently attended her first-ever eye screening where she was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that can lead to irreversible sight loss.

Despite the bad news, having a screening with instant results thanks to Cybersight AI – our newest innovation that uses AI to rapidly review images – means she can take action to prevent further vision loss before it’s too late.

When we first met Esther at her screening in Kigali she was very emotional, and quite rightly so, she had recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and needed to keep on top of her condition with medicine and lifestyle adjustments.

The warning signs were there a year earlier including extreme weight loss and thirst. Esther also lost both her parents at a relatively young age, with her mom dying of complications from the same disease.

After all she had been through, the 26-year-old now faced the prospect of losing her vision. Having had no reason to get her eyes checked in the past, she knew that her blurred vision and difficulty reading could be a cause for concern.

A woman with diabetes sitting in an eye clinic in Kigali, Rwanda

Esther noticed her vision was deteriorating and booked her first-ever diabetic retinopathy screening.

Just the week before, she attended a camp hosted by the Rwanda Diabetes Association for young people living with diabetes. There, she learned how to better manage her condition and the risks she faced living with the disease. She was educated about the risks of diabetic retinopathy and that her vision could be irreversibly affected if she did not take good care of herself and get regular eye check-ups.

Thanks to our partnership with the Rwanda Diabetes Association and Orbis supporters, Esther booked her check-up at our partner eye clinic an hour away from her home.

AI-led screenings for diabetic retinopathy

The clinic in Kigali has been equipped with a special AI-screening camera that takes images of the back of the retina. These images are then uploaded into Cybersight AI, and within seconds, the patient is given their results.

Both of Esther's eyes showed significant signs of diabetic retinopathy. She told us: “I am very concerned about my eyes being affected by the diabetes. I am concerned about the financials of treatment. I am concerned that I am losing my vision. I am scared that I have to get surgery.”

A young woman in Rwanda is screened for diabetic retinopathy in an Orbis supported clinic

Esther is screened using a special AI screening camera to detect eye diseases.

Esther was referred to our partner hospital in Kigali where she could be evaluated, and a course of treatment determined for her. Typical treatments include injections, laser therapy, or surgery. Thanks to Orbis supporters she is now giving herself the best chance of preserving her vision.

The Impact of Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy

A eye health professional screens a patient for eye disease diabetic retinopathy using AI-led technology

A senior nurse and Executive Director of the Rwanda Diabetes Foundation screens Esther.

Diabetes is on the rise globally and diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss among working-age people around the world. Anyone with diabetes is at risk of developing the condition, which can lead to irreversible blindness. Recent reports show the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa, more than in any other region.

There is an extremely low number of eye doctors in sub-Saharan Africa, averaging 3.7 ophthalmologists per 1 million people. Training other medical personnel to conduct diabetic retinopathy screenings is an alternative and effective model in low- and middle-income countries that also preserves ophthalmologists’ time for care only they can manage. AI makes the screening process accessible for medical personnel and patients alike in non-ophthalmic settings.

While Esther left the clinic that day scared and concerned about her financial future, she was armed with something very important – knowledge. Esther is well informed about diabetic retinopathy and the risks of losing her vision. She knows what she needs to do prevent her condition from getting worse and where she needs to go to get treatment.

As always, thank you to our amazing supporters for helping us equip clinics in hard-to-reach places with tools like Cybersight AI. With your support, many people like Esther can get the quality eye care they need to protect their vision now and in the future.

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