Innovative program combats Aboriginal diabetes vision loss

An innovative program to reduce diabetes-related blindness and combat chronic disease amongst Indigenous Australians is the result of a $3 million partnership between The Fred Hollows Foundation and the University of Melbourne. 

The three-year program, TEAMSnet, will use Internet and mobile technologies such as iPads and mobile phones to provide accurate, low-cost eye exams and coordinated diabetes and heart care to Aboriginal people in remote parts of the Northern Territory and Central Australia.

Investing in a diabetes tele-health program would provide huge benefits for Aboriginal Australians, said The Fred Hollows Foundation’s CEO, Brian Doolan.

"Aboriginal Australian adults are three times more likely to have diabetes than other Australians, which means there is a higher risk they will develop diabetes related vision loss if the condition is not managed properly," he said.

"However, the good news is that blindness caused by diabetes can be prevented. Coordinated management and care of chronic conditions such as diabetes can reduce severe vision loss by more than 95 per cent.

"One of the biggest challenges we face in combating diabetes vision loss is that some people living in remote Australia don’t have access to regular eye exams or health care, which is why TEAMSnet will play a vital role in ensuring we get to these remote patients before it is too late."

TEAMSnet will be led by Associate Professor Sven-Erik Bursell, from the University of Melbourne’s Eastern Hill Academic Centre, who has ran a successful diabetes tele-health trial in the US and Canada.

“Tele-health has already significantly reduced diabetes related blindness in the US and Canada,” Associate Professor Bursell said.

“Over the past four years, 21,000 tele-medicine eye exams have been conducted in 17 US states, which has led to a 51 per cent increase in laser treatments to prevent blindness.

“Results of the program conducted in the US revealed this approach costs less and saves significantly more sight than traditional eye care services.”

TEAMSnet will be trialled at four remote Indigenous sites in the Northern Territory and Central Australia.

If the trial is successful, the service could be utilised across other remote communities.

The Fred Hollows Foundation and The University of Melbourne are working in collaboration with the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), Centre for Eye Research Australia and the University of Sydney Clinical Trials Centre. It is also additionally funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

> Find out more about The Foundation's work and achievements in Indigenous Australia.
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