Top End: Reaching out to restore sight

The Foundation's Outreach Optometry Program is bringing vision services to Indigenous people in remote locations - so that no one is denied this essential health care.

For most Australians, getting our eyes tested is as simple as a visit to the local shops. Optometry services are even available in some of our largest department stores now. It has never been easier for people in urban areas to have their eyes screened, get a prescription written and obtain glasses, so that we can read, write and continue on with our everyday lives.

But what if you live in a remote community, four hours from your nearest OPSM? What if you don’t have a car and there is no public transport available? Limited access to eye care services is the reality facing many Indigenous Australians living in remote communities across the Top End of Australia.

The Fred Hollows Foundation believes that no person should be visually impaired because they lack access to basic eye care services. That is why The Foundation runs an Outreach Optometry Program. The program is bringing vision services to Indigenous people living in isolated areas - right to their doorsteps.

Margaret is a resident of the local nursing home in Oenpelli in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Her eyes had been “bad” for about two years. This made it difficult for her to weave her beautiful baskets, which she sells at the local arts centre. Because of her failing sight, Margaret could not read, write a letter, or make out the instructions on her medication labels. She was finding it more and more difficult to complete everyday tasks. To make matters worse, Margaret lives hours away from her nearest vision services.   

Like Margaret, many Indigenous people in the Top End face barriers to receiving eye services. That is why The Foundation ensures that an optometrist regularly travels to remote communities like Oenpelli. Optometrist Tess Preswell recently visited Oenpelli and was able to give Margaret and other local people a detailed eye examination. In Margaret’s case, the examination was especially timely. Tess diagnosed her with cataracts. Untreated, this eye condition eventually leads to total blindness.

After her examination, Margaret was referred to an ophthalmologist. She is scheduled to receive cataract surgery in Darwin in the near future. In the meantime, Tess gave her a pair of ‘ready reader’ glasses, which improved her vision instantly. When Margaret put the glasses on, she laughed and said, “I can see all of you mob,” pointing at her family across the room. Best of all, she can read and write again and work on her beautiful baskets.

Those of us who need glasses to read or write, or even just to get around will understand how difficult life can be when we don’t have them. The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Outreach Optometry Program is ensuring that Indigenous Australians living in remote locations receive the eye care services that should be available to everyone in a country like Australia.

If you're an optometrist who'd like to get involved in the Outreach Optometry Program, phone The Foundation's Northern Territory office on (08) 8941 5145.
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