Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) Australians are three times more likely to have poor vision compared with other Australians. Furthermore, there are limited opportunities for people arriving in Australia from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds to access eye care and vision correction.
Aboriginal Vision Program
In Australia, our focus is on supporting better equality in eye care. Despite being a developed and affluent country with a first-class eye care system, there are significant inequalities in eye health for some Australians. We have been working in these areas to redress this inequality, by providing services directly, guiding policy through participation in relevant sector working groups and committees, conducting research, developing and delivering training for primary health care practitioners in eye care assessments and referrals, and collaborating with others who are also working in these areas.
The Aboriginal Vision Program began in New South Wales (NSW) in 1999 and then expanded to the Northern Territory (NT) in 2007, upon the direct request of Aboriginal eye health coordinators and their Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services for a regular and reliable optometry service for their patients. We work in partnership with these health services to provide a visiting optometry service that forms part of their broader primary health care program, thus enabling a culturally safe optometry service for their patients.
These visiting services, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the Visiting Optometrist Scheme (VOS), are currently provided to almost 200 regional, rural and remote locations across NSW and NT, for over 10,000 people each year. In addition, we train, upskill and mentor primary health care workers to enable the best opportunities for eye health checks and referral pathways to be regularly supported by the community at the local point of care.
Provision of Eye Health and Training
Diabetes related blindness in Aboriginal Australians is 14 times higher than in non-Indigenous populations and 94% of vision loss in Aboriginal communities is preventable or treatable. These worrying facts have motivated action by the Australian Government to fund a national program providing eye health testing equipment, and also training and support for the health services using the equipment, in more than 100 sites across Australia.
We applied to coordinate the new program Provision of Eye Health Equipment and Training supported by the Department of Health, and are co-leading with The Australian College of Optometry through a consortium approach with the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, the Centre for Eye Health and Optometry Australia.
The consortium will work collaboratively to implement the integrated program with guidance from an advisory group of representatives from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health service sector and aims to greatly increase access to detection and appropriate care of eye disease.
Models of Vision Care Delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities
Focusing on Indigenous eye care and the inequity often experienced, motivated action over the recent five year period, 2010-2015, and instigated collaborative work through a research program funded by the Vision Cooperative Research Centre (Vision CRC). We were the lead collaborator for the Vision CRC research project, Models of Vision Care Delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.
This project engaged directly with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to develop simple and replicable solutions for improving access to eye care services and completion of referral pathways for patients accessing eye care in these settings. One of the most important aspects of this research was understanding accessibility to eye care (particularly diabetes eye care) from the perspectives of patients and community members.