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A Churchill Fellowship grant will enable optometrist Lisa Penrose to pilot an integrated eye health and vision screening program in Queensland to work across several Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS).

In 2016, Lisa was awarded an initial Churchill Fellowship grant to travel to Canada and the USA for five weeks to investigate models of integrated primary health care. During her travels, she hoped to gain insight into how to efficiently overcome the main challenges in eye health that exist within the Indigenous Australian population, particularly in regard to diabetic retinopathy.

Lisa on her travels in Canada during her original Churchill grant in 2016


Lisa has now been awarded a second grant from The Winston Churchill Trust* Impact Fund to develop and pilot a vision screening program that aims to service over 4,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the Goondir (Dalby, Oakey, Chinchilla, St George) community in Queensland.

‘There is still a significant gap in eye health between First Nations Australians and non-Indigenous Australians,’ Lisa said.

‘There are barriers that exist for Indigenous Australians when accessing eye health services – barriers that include navigating the eye health pathway to receive timely assessment and treatment to prevent vision loss.’

Lisa says that while visiting eye health services are common in primary healthcare clinics that provide health services to Indigenous Australians, only a handful of them are available full-time, creating a need for supplementary models of eye health screening.

‘Eye health and vision screening in primary healthcare can play a significant role in addressing the gap,’ she continues.

‘Effective eye health screenings, particularly for diabetic retinopathy, within primary healthcare and referral pathways, are integral to high-quality eye healthcare for Indigenous Australians.’

Lisa will work in partnership with the Goondir Aboriginal Medical Service to use already-existing programs and retinal cameras to carry out her project.

Lisa presenting at The First Nations Assembly in Ottawa, Canada

‘During my visits to Canada and the USA, I found that while eye imaging was an essential element in all First Nations eye screening programs, at present I understand it is underutilised in Australia. Many key elements to implementing a comprehensive eye health and vision screening program within Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service primary healthcare clinics are already in place.

‘The objective of my project is to help design a system for the Goondir community that provides effective eye screening services for all age groups and conditions, with the ultimate goal of improving timely access to primary, secondary and tertiary eye care.’

Lisa says she is looking forward to implementing the program, and helping to improve eye care processes for Indigenous Australians.

‘I hope this pilot program can be used as a blueprint to design other eye screening programs and assist in Closing the Gap in vision.’

 *Lisa’s project was supported by the Winston Churchill Trust’s Impact Fund, supporting Churchill Fellows to achieve impact in Australia following their Fellowship travels. You can read more about the Churchill Trust and other Fellowship stories via the website

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In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.