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(L-R) Mitchell Anjou, RANZCO incoming president Associate Professor Mark Daniell, Genevieve Napper, Patricia Turner, Professor Hugh Taylor and Genevieve Quilty

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By Helen Carter
Journalist

 

The efforts of the optometry sector are contributing to success in reducing blindness rates in Indigenous Australians.

Blindness rates in Indigenous Australians have reduced from six times to three times that of non-Indigenous people in the past eight years, according to the latest Roadmap update released yesterday.

The report revealed that the gap in blindness in Indigenous communities has been halved since 2008 through collective implementation of the sector-supported Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision.

The update reported that the National Eye Health Survey 2016, which measured progress to close the gap for vision, found that compared to non-Indigenous Australians, blindness rates in Indigenous adults reduced from six times more common in 2008 to three times more common in 2016.

The CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Patricia Turner, launched the 2016 Annual Update on the Implementation of The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists’ annual congress in Melbourne.

Optometrist Mitchell Anjou, a Senior Research Fellow with Indigenous Eye Health, the University of Melbourne attended the launch. He told Australian Optometry: ‘Optometry’s and optometrists’ involvement in the initiatives to close the gap for vision are integral to the successes demonstrated by this 2016 Roadmap update.

‘Optometry’s participation in the Visiting Optometrists Scheme, which generally requires considerable effort and commitment from my colleagues, is key to increasing services and examination rates and improving diabetic screening and refractive error coverage.

‘Optometrists working from within Aboriginal Health Services across the country provide quality eye care in culturally competent and safe environments. I observe optometrists participating and contributing in regional and state-wide planning that is reforming and changing systems of care for the better and in the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.’

Mr Anjou said there remained work to do, including improving urban and regional access to optometry services, ensuring subsidised spectacle schemes conformed to Optometry Australia national standards, but also linking and supporting primary care and hospital and ophthalmology services.

Optometry Australia CEO Genevieve Quilty, who also attended the launch, said the Roadmap was a great achievement and example of collaboration between optometry and ophthalmology and working with the Aboriginal community controlled sector.

Laureate Professor Hugh Taylor holds the University of Melbourne Harold Mitchell Chair of Indigenous Eye Health. ‘The 2016 Roadmap update shows we are making great progress and are on track to close the gap for Indigenous vision completely in the next four years,’ he said in a media release.

Professor Taylor said progress was being made on every recommendation in the Roadmap, which had been developed by Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne.

Eleven of 42 recommendations have been fully implemented, with almost two-thirds of activities completed. Implementation has started in all jurisdictions, and a growing number of regions and an increasing proportion of the Indigenous population nationwide are being monitored for Roadmap activity.

‘In terms of regional implementation, there has been positive engagement. We are working with 18 regions across the country covering almost half of the nation’s Indigenous population,’ Professor Taylor said in the media release.

‘At the beginning of this project, we found rates of blindness and impaired vision were up to six times higher than for non-Indigenous populations. This has now been halved. While the rate stands at three times more than the national average, this is still a very encouraging improvement. With on-going national support, we are determined to reach eye health parity with the rest of the Australian population.’

New commonwealth funding in 2016 will help reduce the gap but the update says additional funds are required to implement all recommendations and close the gap, which would generate more than $550 million in benefits for the Australian economy at a cost of $230 million.

Trachoma rates dropping

The main causes of vision loss remain cataract, refractive error, diabetic eye disease and trachoma, despite prevalence of active trachoma in children in outback communities falling from 21 per cent in 2008 to 4.6 per cent in 2015.

Trachoma at hyperendemic levels, this is, greater than 20 percent of children with active trachoma, has dropped from 54 to 16 communities but 137 communities remain at risk.

‘We are really seeing some striking progress but we now need to focus on the hot spots,’ Professor Taylor said. ‘We are the only developed nation with endemic disease and only in Indigenous communities. Many Indigenous communities are now trachoma free and we can turn our attention to other main causes of blindness and poor vision in Indigenous communities: cataract, refractive error and diabetes.’

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