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Government expands efforts to combat Indigenous blindness

03/05/2017By Matthew Woodley
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Indigenous Australians from more than 100 sites across the country will have better access to eyecare thanks to a new Federal Government program.
Mitasha Yu, BHVI regional director for Asia Pacific
Mitasha Yu, BHVI regional director for Asia Pacific

The multi-sector Provision of Eye Health Equipment and Training program will operate until June 2019 and is expected to greatly increase access to detection and appropriate care of eye disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within Australia.

Part of the program will see the installation of retinal cameras in order to aid increased rates of diabetic retinopathy screening by Indigenous primary health care services. This will also strengthen support through referral pathways for comprehensive eye examinations.

Specialist medical training and support mechanisms for GPs and Indigenous health service workers will also be included as part of the program, which will enable them to interpret images taken with the retinal camera and understand when patients need referral to an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Aside from the Department of Health, the program will be run in collaboration with the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and The Australian College of Optometry. The consortium also involves the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, Optometry Australia and the Center for Eye Health.

Carla Northam, Vision 2020 CEO
Carla Northam, Vision 2020 CEO

“We are greatly motivated by this new opportunity of increased resources to continue working with the Aboriginal eye health coordinators and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services,” BHVI regional director for Asia Pacific Mitasha Yu said.

“We believe the consortium can strategically make further inroads towards the inequalities in eye care that exist within Australia, and we are grateful to the Commonwealth Government for making these funds available.” 

Vision 2020 CEO Ms Carla Northam also welcomed the initiative and said this type of program was essential for improving eye health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

“Significant and troubling inequities in eye health exist between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous populations. The prevalence of vision impairment and blindness among Indigenous Australians is three times that of non-Indigenous Australians,” Northam said.

“As the peak body for eye health and vision care, Vision 2020 Australia applauds the Australian Government for funding this program and congratulates the consortium of organisations involved in its delivery.”

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are 14 times more likely to suffer from diabetic retinopathy compared to the general population, while statistics have also shown that 94% of blindness in Aboriginal communities is preventable or treatable.

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