Many would never suspect that in a rich country boasting stretches of pristine beaches, a carefree culture and booming economy, many of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still can’t access basic eye health services.
A brief introduction to Australia
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is rich with language, storytelling and a deep connection with the land and sea. In fact, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures of Australia are the oldest living cultural histories in the world. They have survived because of their great ability to adapt and change over time.
The past treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a dark chapter in Australia’s history, and even now there remain many injustices. Today, the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are, on average, ten years shorter than the rest of the nation, and adults are six times more likely to go blind than other Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also more likely to have lower incomes, higher rates of chronic disease, to live in rural and remote parts of Australia, and are less likely to continue their education. This is particularly evident in remote communities where people are disadvantaged by their distance from health care, education, and employment opportunities.
What are the eye health problems?
94% of vision loss among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults is preventable or treatable. The four eye conditions that cause this vision loss are: refractive error (needing glasses), cataract, diabetic retinopathy and trachoma. The statistics show how easily achievable it is to prevent avoidable blindness – most vision loss can be corrected overnight or with a pair of glasses. However, 35% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have never had an eye exam.
A major issue in remote Aboriginal communities is trachoma
. Australia is the only developed, high-income country where trachoma is endemic. While trachoma has been eradicated in many parts of the country, it still exists in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
The Foundation’s programs in Australia
Despite great improvements, there’s still a lack of access to high quality, accessible and culturally appropriate eye care services in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote and underserviced communities in Australia.
The Foundation works with partners to advocate to governments for sustained investment in services to improve eye health and to close the health inequality gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians and the rest of the Australian population by 2030.
We work with partners to deliver targeted eye care projects and build the evidence base across Australia. Our programming and advocacy activities specifically aim to:
- Address cataract, diabetic retinopathy and trachoma
- Address ophthalmology workforce shortages to increase specialist outreach eye care
- Coordinate and improve existing outreach eye care services (ophthalmology and optometry) by increasing the regional workforce, service coordination, and support to patients
- Build the eye health workforce to ensure there are effective human resources available to help increase the rates of early detection, treatment and management of eye diseases
- Enhance and strengthen health systems to improve patient accessibility and experience and integrate eye care into the primary health care system
- Raise the profile of eye care as a public health issue on a regional and national level
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot in 2014:
Research, training and technology
- Screened and provided optometry and ophthalmology services to 10,284 people in remote and under-serviced communities
- Supported 793 cataract surgeries and 296 diabetic retinopathy procedures
- Conducted 51 other sight saving interventions in the NT, Western NSW and the Pilbara region of WA
- Continued to fund the Top End Outreach Ophthalmology Resources Project to reach people who would otherwise have limited access to eye care services
- Funded an orthoptist to provide eye health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians living in Western NSW
Advocacy and partnerships
- Donated $420,255 worth of specialist eye health equipment to eight primary and eye health services working in remote and underserviced regions in Queensland, NSW, WA and the NT
- Supported 75 primary health care workers across Australia to detect eye disease and refer patients for further treatment
- Trained 35 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians from the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector as leaders
- Funded five eye health coordinator positions to provide logistical and clinical support to outreach optometrists and ophthalmologists in the NT
- Continued to support the employment and training of Aboriginal Community Based workers to join the Trachoma Elimination Program in remote communities across the NT
- Financed a four-year project in South Australia’s Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands that funded health staff to tackle chronic disease, eye health and improve child health
- Funded and supported the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to undertake a cost benefit analysis of diabetic retinopathy screening in remote communities. The goal was to evaluate the economic effectiveness of the Telehealth and Eye Associate Medical Services Network (TEAMSNet) model
- Partnered with the Close the Gap Campaign, Vision 2020, Recognise, the Aboriginal community controlled health sector, governments and eye health stakeholders to build effective coalitions supporting The Foundation’s advocacy efforts in Australia