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Fred Hollows makes largest contribution to Indigenous eye health

Expansion of the Indigenous eye health workforce and greater provision of eyecare in Aboriginal-controlled health services will be possible under a new $40 million plan announced by The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Unveiled last week, the Indigenous Australia Program Five Year Country Strategy is the charity’s largest ever investment to address the eye health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who continue to go blind at three times the rate of other Australians.

The plan, which has been endorsed by Australia’s first and only Indigenous ophthalmologist Dr Kris Rallah-Baker, will see the money invested over five years, with a particular focus on powering Indigenous communities to reduce the current eye health disparity.“Fred was passionate about partnering with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and involving them in health programs that affected them,” Mr Shaun Tatipata, Fred Hollows Indigenous Australia Program manager, said.

“This is a huge focus for us over the next five years, to power Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) by giving them the support and tools they need to provide their own quality eye health services.”

The plan sets out four overarching goals including; effective and accessible treatment of cataracts, which are 12 times more common in Indigenous communities; the elimination of trachoma; effective refractive error prevention and treatment; and timely treatment for diabetic retinopathy and other eye conditions.

To achieve this, the strategy details five objectives. Chief among those is the need to address current shortages of Indigenous people employed in eye health roles. By 2024, the charity hopes to see 50 additional Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander professionals trained in eye health, the employment of 30 more service delivery coordinators to increase uptake of eye health services, two additional Indigenous doctors enrolled in ophthalmology, five training to be optometrists, and 50 ophthalmologists and optometrists with enhanced skills to provide culturally-responsive services.

“Greater investment is needed to ensure more trained and culturally-competent eye health professionals are available to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples receive high-quality, culturally-safe eye care, as close to home as possible,” the strategy stated.

As well as strengthening regional eye health services, the plan also details a requirement to better equip and staff ACCHSs. It states they are in the best position to provide localised, culturally-responsive primary eye care.

“By strengthening the provision of eye health care within ACCHSs, more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples will receive eye examinations, gain access to glasses when they need th and be actively supported to access cataract surgery and treatment for diabetic retinopathy,” the report claims.

For sustained elimination of trachoma, the plan identifies effective post-elimination surveillance and response systems as key factors, as well as strong environmental health and hygiene promotion programs within communities.

The final objective relates to advocating the government to fully adopt the $85.5 million Strong Eyes, Strong Communities plan by Vision 2020 Australia.

“Only 60% of the need is being met and access to culturally-safe treatment is still lacking,” the strategy states.

“If funded by governments, the Strong Eyes, Strong Communities plan will enable the necessary scale-up of the clinical and non-clinical services required to meet population need and support ACCHSs to play a greater role in designing and delivering culturally-responsive models of eye health care.”

Commenting on the strategy, Rallah-Baker said: “The strategy sets out a clear commitment to self-determination by ensuring and allowing community control to drive the design and delivery of eye care to communities and ensuring that local capacity is strengthened to support the necessary scaling up of services.”