This Christmas, the Herald and The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ are working together to bring the Gift of Sight to the Pacific, where four out of five people who are blind don't need to be. Alarmingly, an increasing number of these are young people, suffering from diabetes-related eye disease. At 2.30pm on Wednesday we present a live panel discussion about diabetes in the Pacific, hosted by NZME video journalist Will Trafford and featuring Fred Hollows Foundation chief executive Andrew Bell, top chef Michael Meredith - who visited Vanuatu in October with Fred Hollows and the Herald - and diabetes expert Professor Robert Beaglehole.

Diabetes has been described as "a tsunami" that is overwhelming healthcare systems in the Pacific Islands.

Seven of the 10 countries with the highest rates of the disease are in the Pacific.

The highest is the Marshall Islands where 33 per cent of people aged between 20 and 79 have diabetes.


In October, the Herald spent a week with the Fred Hollows Foundation in Vanuatu where 21 per cent of the population have been diagnosed with the disease.

READ MORE: Clerence has lost her toes to diabetes - now she's going blind

The rates in other Pacific countries in which the charity works are Kiribati, 28 per cent; Samoa, 24 per cent; Tonga, 19 per cent; Fiji, 16 per cent; Papua New Guinea, 14 per cent; Solomon Islands, 13 per cent.

Diabetes is part of the broader problem of non-communicable diseases - heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases - that cause about 70 per cent of all deaths, says public health specialist Robert Beaglehole.

Diabetes increases the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
In New Zealand, more than 240,000 people have been diagnosed with diabetes while the Ministry of Health estimates another 100,000 have the disease. Taken together that is about 7 per cent of the population.