Indigenous, Local, News

Trachoma program makes significant inroads to close the gap

Significant progress has been made to improve eyecare outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but service shortfalls and equity gaps remain, according to the 10th annual update on the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision.

As a result of the work to close the gap, eye examinations have increased from 81,713 in 2013—2014 to 104,300 in 2019—2020, with a steady increase in the number of cataract surgeries.

The trachoma program for children has demonstrated the most success, with the annual report showing there were 54 ‘hot spots’ – prevalence of active trachoma of 20% or more in children aged 1-9 years — in 2008, which dropped to 16 in 2020.

The report identified 205 communities with or at risk of trachoma in 2008, and only 65 in 2020.

Professor Hugh Taylor, Harold Mitchell Professor of Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne, said the report reflected a decade of hard work.

“I am very pleased to report the significant progress that has been made in implementing the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision over the past year and over the previous 10 years,” he said.

“The 2021 report highlights the hard work of the community and eyecare sectors across Australia to implement change and to work together to improve eye health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” he said.

However, according to the 2021 report, there is still inequity with longer cataract surgery waiting lists for Aboriginal people than non-Aboriginal people, with waits of up to 50% longer. Diabetes eye checks show significant jurisdictional variation and are still well below non-Aboriginal people and under target rates.

“There is now Roadmap activity across the whole country. With Australian Government support for the remaining recommendations, the gap for vision can be closed and we will be well on the way to end avoidable blindness in Indigenous communities by 2025, the goal set by Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan,” Taylor said.

As part of Close the Gap, 64 regional stakeholder groups and seven groups at jurisdictional level have been established. Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, Aboriginal and/or Torres Islander people and other Indigenous-controlled organisations are also leading eyecare activities at regional and state levels.

“The increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership of eyecare work, on all levels, is a crucial step towards ensuring the best and most appropriate models of care are available,” Taylor said.

To mark the launch of the 10th annual update on the Implementation of the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision, the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the University of Melbourne invited First Nations Australians working in and with the eyecare sector to share a short video message (below).

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