Brien Holden Vision Institute

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Aboriginal Vision program

The Aboriginal Vision program was born in 1999 in response to the realisation that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people had very limited access to eye care services and some who did were reluctant to access services provided by mainstream hospitals, private optometrists and medical eye care practitioners.

In recognition of the success and importance of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations or Aboriginal Medical Services (AMSs) in enabling better healthcare access and outcomes for Indigenous Australians. The Institute particularly focuses on increasing access to eye care services within these settings. As such, barriers to accessing mainstream care are overcome as eye care is provided within the culturally safe setting of an Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) and can also integrate with comprehensive primary health care (particularly important for diabetic eye care).

The program commenced in New South Wales (NSW) in 1999, upon invitation from the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW (AH&MRC), then in the Northern Territory program in 2006, working closely with Regional Eye Health Coordinators and the associated Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS).

To date optometrists working for the program have conducted over 35 000 examinations in NSW and over 10 000 in the Northern Territory. Optometry services are provided by both staff optometrists and contracted locum optometrists many of whom work regularly and consistently in the program. There are currently 100 optometrists participating in the Aboriginal program, with numbers expanding annually.

The Institute has established or currently supports 111 eye clinics in remote and regional locations across NSW and 80 remote locations in the Northern Territory. The majority of the locations are identified as a national priority – communities in need of visiting optometry services according to the Visiting Optometrists Service, Department of Health and Ageing – a major funder for our outreach optometry services. Clinics are conducted within rpimary health care clinics - either AMS or government run health clinics. Services are organised and facilitated by Regional Eye Health Coordinators; as such it is very much a shared program.

The partnerships have ensured programs are developed in accordance with community needs and cultural sensitivities. It has also involved the collaboration with a number of state, federal, community and professional organisations and individuals. This has provided efficiencies in service and resource provision, essential to the sustainability of the program.

Building local capacity for Aboriginal eye care

Since 2000, the Institute has provided education programs for Regional Eye Health Coordinators and Aboriginal Eye Health Workers. This has included a number of one week workshops in both NSW and NT, funded by funded by the Department of Health and Ageing Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Health and Department of Health and Ageing: Eye Health Demonstration Grant, NT Government Department of Health, and Rural Health Continuing Education Grants.

These education programs equip eye health workers and coordinators to facilitate visiting eye care services, conduct community education and health promotion about eye and vision care, provide children's vision screenings, dispense and deliver spectales, and follow up patients who require ophthalmology care.

In 2009, the Institute developed an image-based eye health and vision care resource package, specifically for use by rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health centres. The 'I See for Culture' kits were designed and produced by the Institute in collaboration with a range of eye care and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations and funded by the Commonwealth Government's Department of Health and Ageing.

In 2010, the Institute developed and introduced a training resource to enable visiting optometrists to deliver in-service tutorials for primary health care teams on a series of eye related topics in conjunction with the visiting optometry clinics. This aims to build capacity for improved primary eye care, early detection and better case management at the community health centre level. The program seeks to work collaboratively with other eye care service providers, particularly ophthalmologists, to contribute to improved integration of outreach eye care services.

The Institute is also the key implementing partner in the Vision CRC project 'Models of vision care delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities'. These research efforts aim to investigate practical solutions for improving systems for the delivery of eye care in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with a particular emphasis on integration of eye care with primary health care. The Institute is working closely with project partners to review the current models and then develop tools such as education packages, continuous quality improvement and regional eye care mapping and performance review tools to monitor, assess and facilitate improvements in regional eye care systems.

Research is also investigating the training needs for Regional Eye Health Coordinators and development of an appropriate training program, and optometrists’ perspectives of subsidised spectacles schemes, and their access by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients, to provide an evidence base for policy and advocacy work in this area.


  • Australian Government Department of Health & Ageing - Visiting Optometry Scheme
  • Centre for Remote Health
  • Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH)
  • Northern Territory Government, Department of Health
  • Fred Hollows Foundation
  • Rural Health Continuing Education Grants
  • Medicare Australia (Australian Government, Department of Human Services


  • Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council (AH&MRC)
  • Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS)
  • Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT)
  • Danila Dilba Health Service (Darwin office)
  • Local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • NSW Government's Rural Aerial Health Services and the Royal Flying Doctors (RFDS)
  • NSW Government, Department of Human Services (VisionCare)
  • Optometrists Association Australia
  • VisionCare NSW
  • Vision 2020 Australia
  • Lowitja Institute
  • Professor Hugh Taylor and Indigenous Eye Health Unit
  • Fred Hollows Foundation
  • Ninti One


dispense and deliver spectales, and follow up patients who require ophthalmology care.


  • Global Head Office
    Level 4 North Wing
    Rupert Myers Building
    Gate 14 Barker Street,
    University of New South Wales
    Sydney NSW 2052
  • +61 2 9385 7516

  • Africa Head Office
    172 Umbilo Road
    Durban 4001
    South Africa
  • +27 31 202 3811

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