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$1.4 million for South Australian diabetic retinopathy project

Flinders University will direct $1.4 million in new Federal Government funding towards increased screening and improving treatment options for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness among Aboriginal Australians.

It is one of nine projects backed by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) which will run for three years from 2019-20.

The Flinders University grant featured in a joint announcement from Minister for Health Mr Greg Hunt and Minister for Indigenous Australians Mr Ken Wyatt this week.

They have committed almost $35 million in total in 42 key research projects, including ending avoidable Indigenous deafness and blindness, and the eradication of chronic kidney disease.

In the first part of this package, the government is investing $14.44 million from the first grant round of the Indigenous Health Research Fund, which is supported by the MRFF.

The successful grant recipients will run the projects that identify what will contribute to successful healthcare delivery in Indigenous populations and the barriers that exist. They will also implement a targeted and culturally appropriate support package including guidelines, toolkits and training programs, as well as conducting trials of potentially ground-breaking and life-saving new treatments.

With their $1.4 million grant, medical researchers and clinicians from Flinders University and the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) will co-design, implement and evaluate a culturally appropriate model of eyecare. It will be done in partnership with with Aboriginal communities and organisations in order to develop a program that improves screening rates and eye health outcomes in urban, regional and remote Aboriginal communities.

Clinical lead researcher and academic head of ophthalmology at Flinders University Professor Jamie Craig said the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes in Aboriginal communities highlights the importance of improving current screening rates and treatment access, while also understanding the unmet cultural, social and clinical needs of Aboriginal people with diabetes.

“We have established a consortium of leaders in Aboriginal ophthalmic disease, epidemiological and health services research, artificial intelligence, eye health service delivery, health policy and knowledge translation with a shared societal ambition – to prevent avoidable diabetes-related blindness,” he said.

“The three year MRFF grant responds to the key health challenge of ending avoidable blindness to meet the needs of Aboriginal people at greatest risk of blindness through Aboriginal community-led interventions including tailored eye care delivery, targeted diabetic retinopathy screening, improved treatment coverage rates and advanced eye imaging technologies.

“This program represents an unparalleled opportunity to establish a landmark exploration of diabetic retinopathy risk and develop a model of eye health care that leverages partnerships between Aboriginal people and communities, inter-disciplinary researchers, policymakers and health care systems.”

Ms Kim Morey, a senior research translation manager with SAHMRI’s Aboriginal Health Equity Theme, said productive partnerships were at the core of the project.

“Community involvement and endorsement is central to all of our research,” she said. “We know that empowering community to help design and implement projects leads to better results and ultimately better health outcomes.

“The integration of the latest medical research into health service delivery ultimately seeks to bring about holistic change across the system to address avoidable diabetes-related blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

The second part of the government’s $35 million package comprises $19.78 million for 33 grants until mid-2022 under Round One of the Indigenous Australians Health Programme Emerging Priorities grant opportunity. This grant provides funding for one-off, innovative projects that target improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.