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High rates of preventable vision loss among Aboriginal Australians

Why is an Aboriginal Australian adult six times more likely to go blind than a non-Aboriginal adult? The disparity in availability of eye care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is a key reason, but it doesn’t completely explain this alarming statistic.

“We know that 95% of vision loss in Aboriginal communities can be prevented through early detection, so why isn’t it being detected?” asks PhD candidate at the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Aryati Yashadhana, who’s about to start digging deeper to find an answer.

“A 2012 study published by the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the University of Melbourne revealed the Aboriginal eye health journey to be one where patients drop out of the process at various stages, and those who near the end are often not able to access the treatment they need,” Aryati says. “My PhD will be focussing on if and why patients access eye care treatment from their own perspective, and if they don’t, why they don’t.”

The research will examine the perceptions, beliefs and experiences of Aboriginal people accessing eye care treatments in marginalised communities. It seeks to develop an understanding of why services may not be utilised by Aboriginal patients as expected and aims to identify the changes needed to facilitate better uptake of services and improved eye health.

Involving a strong community-based participatory research approach, Aryati’s study will collaborate closely with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations across the Northern Territory and New South Wales, and most importantly with community members to determine where the problems in eye care delivery lie and how they think these might be addressed at the grassroots level.

“My hope in the bigger picture is that the project will bring community perspectives and systemic change together by serving as a basis for recommendations to those working in Aboriginal vision care and the wider health system, whilst fostering an environment for sustainable change and engagement within the community itself,” Aryati says.

\“We need to drive change on the ‘supply’ side of eye care delivery, while keeping the community involved in the process as much as possible, I believe this is the key to sustainable change in eye care. Through this I hope that access to eye health is increased for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and preventable eye health issues are actually prevented.”

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