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 three 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 2016:
Research, training and technology
- Screened 11,164 people
- Performed 1,260 eye operations and treatments, including 514 cataract operations
- Conducted 2 surgeries to treat trachoma and 557 diabetic retinopathy treatments
- Treated 172 people with antibiotics for trachoma
- Distributed 2,900 pairs of classes
- Educated 852 school children and community members in eye health
- Trained 23 clinic support staff and 309 community health workers
- Built, renovated or equipped 7 medical facilities
- Supplied $216,182 worth of equipment