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Indigenous eye health neglected across the world: CERA

09/05/2018By Matthew Woodley
Indigenous populations worldwide experience significantly higher rates of avoidable vision impairment and lack the support needed to address the issue, according to a review of eye health led by the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) and the University of Melbourne.

The paper is the first global review of eye health amongst Indigenous populations and it found that vision impairment is poorly understood and addressed within these communities.

“Once we had finished the review we were shocked at just how big the gaps are – both in the understanding and the burden of vision impairment.”
Josh Foreman, CERA

First author of the review, University of Melbourne PhD candidate Mr Joshua Foreman, said despite the existence of thousands of research publications addressing vision impairment, the team’s search of the global literature found just 64 studies on eye health among indigenous communities from the past three decades.

“For many years we have worked with Indigenous Australians, who are known to suffer from higher rates of vision loss than non-Indigenous Australians, so when we embarked on this project we wanted to know whether there was a consistent disparity among indigenous peoples worldwide,” Foreman said.

“Once we had finished the review, however, we were shocked at just how big the gaps are – both in the understanding and the burden of vision impairment.”

Only 24 of the 90 countries with indigenous populations were represented in the research record, and while the rates of vision impairment and eye disease were found to be higher in most of the indigenous populations represented, a lack of consistency and detail meant the researchers were unable to dissect the findings much further.

CERA’s Dr Mohamed Dirani said he hoped the review’s findings would drive major health policy change across the world.

“Sadly, these results strongly highlight that indigenous eye health has been neglected in most countries and that this inequality needs to be addressed immediately,” Dirani said.

“What we need is more research and more investment into specific and effective intervention programs targeting avoidable vision loss in indigenous populations. It is unjustifiable that so many people are condemned to a life of disability just because they can’t access care.”

The study, ‘Prevalence and Causes of Visual Loss Among the Indigenous Peoples of the World’, can be found in Jama Ophthalmology.

Image courtesy: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ

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