NACCHO Aboriginal #EyeHealth: Landmark #NEHS survey sets national eye health benchmark for Australia

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Blindness and vision impairment appear to be on the decline in Australia according to the findings of the first ever National Eye Health Survey, released on World Sight Day 2016. Rates of vision impairment were also found to be lower in Australia when compared to other high income countries.

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However, the importance of regular eye tests was underlined with more than 50 per cent of the 4,836 participants found to have an eye condition being unaware they had that condition prior to taking part in the survey, and over 30 per cent of all participants being onward referred to an eye health professional.

The National Eye Health Survey, led by Vision 2020 Australia and the Centre for Eye Research Australia, is the first comprehensive national survey of the prevalence of vision loss in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and provides a benchmark against which to measure national progression in eye health and vision care.

Vision 2020 Australia CEO, Carla Northam, said the survey findings support the need for eye health and vision care to remain a priority in Australia.

“The survey findings confirm that we are making progress in reducing the prevalence of vision impairment and blindness and that our eye health and vision care system is improving; however there is more work to be done.”

“Importantly, the National Eye Health Survey draws a line in the sand, providing the first truly national picture of eye health in Australia. Its findings will assist in the shaping of eye health policy, delivery of services and will provide a benchmark for monitoring progress towards reaching the World Health Organization’s target of a 25 per cent reduction in the prevalence of avoidable blindness and vision impairment by 2019.”

Principal Investigator, Dr Mohamed Dirani from the Centre for Eye Research Australia, said: “Australia is leading the way in producing invaluable data on the prevalence and major causes of vision impairment and blindness, with the National Eye Health Survey giving us an up-to-date evidence based picture of the nation’s eye health for the first time.

“The survey findings will assist in targeting Australia’s eye health and vision care resources more effectively, and provides a start point for more effective evaluation of the impact of eye health interventions across the nation.”

The National Eye Health Survey was funded by the Australian Government, with contributions from the Centre for Eye Research Australia, OPSM, Novartis, Zeiss, Brien Holden Vision Institute, Optometry Australia, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

National Eye Health Survey Key Findings

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1.The good news:

  • The NEHS is the first comprehensive national survey of the prevalence of vision impairment and blindness in Australia.
  • The results of the NEHS show that vision impairment and blindness appear to be on the decline in Australia when referenced against earlier select population group studies.
  • The prevalence of vision impairment is lower in Australia when compared to other high income countries

2.While there are signs of progress in reducing the prevalence of major eye conditions, the survey found that:

  • The prevalence of vision impairment and blindness among Indigenous Australians is three times that of non-Indigenous Australians.
  • The prevalence of vision impairment and blindness doubles with each decade over 60 years for non-Indigenous Australians.
  • Uncorrected refractive error causes almost two thirds of vision impairment among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This could be corrected immediately with the right pair of glasses.
  • Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among non-Indigenous Australians.
  • Cataract is the leading cause of blindness among Indigenous Australians.

3.The survey showed the importance of regular eye examinations and access to services, highlighting that:

  • The proportion of Australians with vision impairment is higher in outer regional and very remote areas when compared to other areas.
  • More than 50 per cent of participants found to have an eye condition didn’t know they had that condition prior to taking part in the NEHS, and one third of all participants were referred to an eye health professional.
  • Almost 40 per cent of Indigenous Australians and 13 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians who need cataract surgery have not accessed specialist treatment services.
  • Half of Indigenous participants and a quarter of non-Indigenous participants with diabetes are not having an eye examination at the frequency recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council

Next steps for Vision 2020 Australia and the eye health and vision care sector

Moving forward, the study supports the need for eye health and vision care to remain a priority in Australia. Vision 2020 Australia and members will continue to advocate for all Australians to have regular eye examinations in order to prevent avoidable vision impairment and blindness.

Australia must build upon the good progress made in order to reach the World Health Organization target of reducing the prevalence of avoidable vision impairment and blindness by 25% in 2019. Vision 2020 Australia and members will continue to advocate for targeted action in a new National Framework Implementation Plan for Eye Health and Vision Care to ensure targeted action and measurable outcomes.

Additionally, using the results of the NEHS, Vision 2020 Australia will continue to work with the eye health and vision care sector to advocate for:

  • a strategic approach to eye health promotion
  • improved access to eye services in regional and remote areas
  • better access to low cost spectacles and cataract surgery
  • the promotion of diabetic retinopathy screening
  • the reporting and monitoring of performance against targets based on population need
  • a continued focus on “closing the gap for vision” for Indigenous Australians
  • equitable support for people of all age groups with unavoidable vision impairment and blindness.
  • Finally, in order to measure progress, Vision 2020 Australia will also advocate for a follow up survey in the coming years.

What is the National Eye Health Survey? Significance, scope and how it was done

The NEHS was funded by the Australian Government, with contributions from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), OPSM, Novartis, Zeiss, Brien Holden Vision Institute, Optometry Australia, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Led by CERA and Vision 2020 Australia, the NEHS is the first nationwide study of vision impairment and blindness in Australia. The NEHS closes an important gap in the evidence base, providing up-to-date prevalence rates on blindness and vision impairment for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; which will assist in the planning of future eye health care programs.

The study examined the general population over the age of 50 and Indigenous people over the age of 40 in 30 geographic areas across Australia.

Sites were stratified by remoteness and randomly selected. More than 4,800 participants were examined

Limitations for direct comparison with other data

There is no previous national, population-based study of both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for direct comparison. Two large studies were conducted in the early 1990s: the Melbourne Visual Impairment Project (MVIP) and the Blue Mountains Eye Study (BMES). They provided insights into the prevalence and causes of vision impairment and blindness but both studies were on somewhat selected population groups. In 2008, the National Indigenous Eye Health Survey (NIEHS) focussed on Indigenous Australians and recruited only a small number of non-Indigenous Australians. Until now these three studies have been the reference studies for vision impairment and blindness in Australia.

 

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