Australia has missed its 2020 target to close the gap for vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but has made significant inroads, a new report reveals.
The annual update on the implementation of the Roadmap to Close the Gap, released on 20 November, reveals that although more than 57% of the recommendations have been fully implemented, more needs to be done.
Co-ordination of regional eye services now occurs in 59 of 64 regions across Australia, which includes more than 95% of the Indigenous population.
Trachoma rates in children in outback areas have dropped from more than 20% to less than five, but hotspots have increased from 19 in last year’s report to 24.
The report stated that eye examination rates continued to grow, but still do not meet the population need and further growth is required in both community controlled and other services.
Cataract surgery rates for Indigenous Australians vary across the country, with urban regions recording consistently lower rates of population-based needs met compared with regional and remote areas, according to the latest report.
University of Melbourne public health leader and ophthalmologist Professor Hugh Taylor said 2020 had presented additional challenges with COVID-19 leading to reduced access to eye screening, examination and surgery – all resulting in greater backlogs and patient waitlists.
“Australia is the only developed country with the eye disease trachoma, and housing and environmental health are key to eliminating it,” Taylor said.
“Access to soap and washing facilities at home and in school is key, along with ongoing commitment to maintenance and repair of these facilities from the government.”
The report also found Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector continued to increase the proportion of community members accessing health assessments each year.
Taylor said it was critical to identify those needing eye examinations through strengthened eye health capacity in primary care.
“The inclusion of an eye check in these exams then requires safe pathways, and ready access, to specialist eyecare at no-cost to patients. Models of care, workforce support, training and investment in capacity building are also key,” he said.
The Australian Government has committed to ending avoidable blindness in Indigenous communities by 2025 through Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan.