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AIHW report highlights progress and identifies gaps in Indigenous eye health service

The prevalence of trachoma in school aged children is trending in the right direction – that is, down – according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) latest annual eye health data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This is the sixth annual report to update the eye health measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It includes information on the prevalence of eye health conditions, diagnosis and treatment services, the eye health workforce and outreach services.

Eye health measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2022 highlighted that between 2010–11 and 2020–21, the proportion of Indigenous Australians who had an eye health check as part of a health assessment increased from 11% to 29% (based on age-standardised rates).

In 2019–20, 12% of Indigenous Australians (around 104,300) had an eye examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Around 42% of Indigenous Australians who had a diabetes test also had an eye examination in 2019-20.

Among Indigenous Australians who had a diabetes test, the age-standardised proportion who were screened for diabetic retinopathy rose from an estimated 27% in 2005–06 to 36% in 2019–20.

The overall prevalence of active trachoma among children aged 5–9 in at-risk communities fell from 15% in 2009 to 3.3% in 2021.

In terms of treatment, the AIHW reported that the age-standardised cataract surgery rate for Indigenous Australians fell by 15% from 2018–19 to 2019–20.

In 2019–20, the median waiting time for cataract surgery was 130 days for Indigenous Australians.

In 2021, the overall treatment coverage of active trachoma cases in at-risk communities was 71% – that is, 1,666 community members identified as having trachoma received treatment. This included children with active trachoma, along with their household contacts and other community members.

In 2020–21, 18,373 spectacles were dispensed to Indigenous Australians under state spectacle schemes in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania (the states and territories able to provide data). Of these, Victoria (2,454 spectacles, 39 per 1,000 population) came closest to meeting the estimated number of spectacles needed (4,024) – 61% of the population-based need met.

The number of occasions of service provided under the Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS) – which provides specialist eye health services to Indigenous Australians in mainly regional and remote areas – have fluctuated, but overall services more than tripled between 2010–11 (around 8,300 occasions of service) and 2020–21 (around 26,459 occasions of service).

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