L. to R. Prof Hugh Taylor (Chair of Indigenous Eye Health Unit), Dame Quentin Bryce and Mr Matthew Cooke (NACCHO Chair)
A progress report on Aboriginal eye health shows that sustained efforts can make a huge difference to the health of Aboriginal people and continued focus is needed to finish the job, said the peak Aboriginal health body.
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson Matthew Cooke launched the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision at the 46th RANZCO 2014 Annual Scientific Congress with the Hon. Quentin Bryce, former Governor General, and welcomed the significant progress of a 10 per cent reduction in childhood trachoma since 2009.
“Today we can celebrate the fact that more Aboriginal kids have improved vision thanks to coordinated measures to reduce trachoma,” Mr Cooke said.
“This is not just great news for our children’s health but will have flow on effects to their education and ultimately future employment opportunities.”
Mr Cooke said whilst success had been made in the area of trachoma, a stronger focus is needed to reduce the high prevalence of diabetes in Aboriginal people, a major source of blindness, and up to four times more common in Aboriginal people than among other Australians. For example, recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data (2012-13) shows that 39% of Aboriginal people aged over 55 years suffer from diabetes.
“The gains being celebrated today can be attributed to the ongoing support of all levels of government, partnering with the NGO sector and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.
“Maintaining and expanding on the programs that will work will ensure we get even closer to the goal of eliminating avoidable blindness in all Aboriginal people.”
Mr Cooke said vision loss was the most commonly reported long term health condition for Aboriginal Australians, representing a substantial 11% of the health gap.
“We know what to do to improve the sight of Aboriginal people. We know how to prescribe glasses, perform cataract surgery and detect and treat diabetic eye disease. To keep up the success such as outlined in the Roadmap today we need to look to measures which reduce waiting times for hospital surgery for diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and related surgery.
“There also needs to be a common approach to a subsidised spectacle scheme introduced for Aboriginal people across all states and territories; work has already begun to make this a reality.
“The Roadmap also identifies significant issues once a patient moves beyond primary care onto secondary and tertiary levels of care. It is essential that primary care, optometry, ophthalmology and hospitals are effectively linked and work well together at a regional level.
“Our 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health services are key to helping identify people requiring eye care and delivering treatments in collaboration with the broader eye health sector. It is also great to see young Aboriginal leaders in eye health coming through such as the first Aboriginal Registrar Ophthalmologist, Kristopher Rallah-Baker and Optometrist Shannon Peckham.
Mr Cooke acknowledged Melbourne University’s Indigenous Eye Health Unit’s sustained efforts to continue to work closely with NACCHO and member services to close the gap in the vision for Aboriginal people. Mr Cooke further acknowledged other key agencies such as the Fred Hollows Foundation, Optometry Australia and RANZCO.