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Federal Government grant saves IDEAS Van from closure

05/12/2018By Myles Hume
The Federal Government has intervened with an $860,000 grant to rescue the Indigenous Diabetes Eyes and Screening (IDEAS) Van from closure.

The new funding will ensure one more year of operation for the project, which runs a fully equipped, mobile eye treatment clinic to screen and treat Indigenous people living in remote parts of Queensland.

Since its inception in 2013, the mobile clinic – involving 37 voluntary optometrists, ophthalmologists and orthoptists – has travelled more than 233,000 kilometres. Almost 6,000 people have been screened and diagnosed, while 3,583 patients have been referred for treatment at an attendance rate of 78%.

IDEAS Van CEO Ms Lyndall De Marco was relieved to secure Federal Government support after repeated attempts to persuade the Queensland State Government were ignored.

“We will keep this van going, we will expand, and we will go interstate.”
Lyndall De Marco, IDEAS Van

De Marco said the State Government’s refusal to support the project had left it facing an uncertain future, with the van taken off the road for more than two months earlier this year, forcing doctors to fly out to see patients with limited facilities. However, she was now confident it would survive beyond 2019.

“We were very, very disappointed that [the Queensland Government] didn’t want to reward success. I thought they would appreciate the way that partners came together to benefit so many people,” she said.

“Everyone was upset about it, but we had very supportive talks with [Federal Minister for Indigenous Health] Mr Ken Wyatt. He could see the good we were doing and the people we are helping. We were very grateful to him for his recognition and grant.”

The IDEAS Van was born out of a $5 million Queensland State Government grant in 2013 with a view to tackle Indigenous diabetes over two years. With people placing more importance on their sight than diabetes itself, retinal screening was seen as an effective tool for identifying people with the disease.

De Marco said when the Queensland Government leadership changed in 2015 she was repeatedly told funding would be cut. However, it survived another two years thanks to support from 21 organisations, including the donation of a $230,000 semi-trailer every three years, and $500,000 in injection treatments from pharmaceutical companies each year.

Despite expectations the new funding would only last one year, De Marco said she was confident the IDEAS Van would continue to prosper, hinting there was good news around the corner.

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“I am absolutely adamant the IDEAS Van will be on the road in the years to come, we will raise the money, it doesn’t always have to come from government – as we have found. We will keep this van going, we will expand, and we will go interstate,” she said.

Minister Wyatt said the new investment was in addition to $5.7 million the government allocated over 2017-2018 to provide up to 160 retinal cameras to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, including 105 in Queensland.

“Eye degeneration from diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of vision loss and blindness among First Australians, with the latest data revealing 11% of adults have diabetes, 3x the rate for other Australians,” Wyatt said.

“Earlier detection means more effective treatment and better results. It is critical to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have their eyes checked.”


More reading:

Millions to fund expansion of retinal camera program


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