NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Progress and gaps in eye health measures

feature tile image of young Aboriginal boy having an eye test; text 'AIHW report identifies progress and gaps in eye health measures for ATSI people'

The image in the feature tile is from the article Time to say goodbye to fly-in fly-out eye care posted on the Flinders University Alumni stories webpage on 1 September 2021.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is a platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Progress and gaps in eye health measures

The prevalence of trachoma in school aged children is trending in the right direction – that is, down – according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) latest annual eye health data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is the sixth annual report to update the eye health measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It includes information on the prevalence of eye health conditions, diagnosis and treatment services, the eye health workforce and outreach services.

The AIHW report Eye health measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2022, available here, highlighted that between 2010–11 and 2020–21, the proportion of Indigenous Australians who had an eye health check as part of a health assessment increased from 11% to 29% (based on age-standardised rates). In 2019–20, 12% of Indigenous Australians (around 104,300) had an eye examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Around 42% of Indigenous Australians who had a diabetes test also had an eye examination in 2019-20.

Among Indigenous Australians who had a diabetes test, the age-standardised proportion who were screened for diabetic retinopathy rose from an estimated 27% in 2005–06 to 36% in 2019–20. The overall prevalence of active trachoma among children aged 5–9 in at-risk communities fell from 15% in 2009 to 3.3% in 2021. In terms of treatment, the AIHW reported that the age-standardised cataract surgery rate for Indigenous Australians fell by 15% from 2018–19 to 2019–20.

To view the InSight article AIHW report highlights progress and identifies gaps in Indigenous eye health service in full click here.

Aboriginal woman having an eye test

Around 42% of Indigenous Australians who had a diabetes test also had an eye examination in 2019-20. Image source: Insight News.

PSA Faye McMillan Conference Grant

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) has announced a new grant, the PSA Faye McMillan Scholarship, to support the existing pharmacist workforce who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The scholarship will be awarded each year to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pharmacist for the purposes of attending the PSA National Conference. This year the conference will be held in Sydney over 28-30 July, with the successful applicant for the inaugural grant to be supported to attend across all 3 days.

Professor Faye McMillan AM is a Wiradjuri yinaa (woman) originally from Trangie, NSW. She is a dedicated community pharmacist and is recognised as the first Indigenous Australian to hold a western degree in pharmacy in this country. Faye is a founding member of Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) and has received numerous accolades for her leadership and contribution to population health, education, equity and the community. Faye is a strong advocate for improving Indigenous health care across professions and is driven to help promote the participation and inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within pharmacy.

For more information about the PSA Faye McMillan Conference Grant, including a link to the EOI online application form click here.

New early childhood services for remote communities

Families in Australia’s most remote locations will benefit from the establishment of new community-run early childhood education and care services. Minister for Early Childhood Education Dr Anne Aly has announced four new early childhood education and care services thanks to an almost $30m expansion of the Government’s Community Child Care Fund Restricted Program. “All Australian children should be able to access quality early childhood education and care regardless of where they live,” Dr Aly said.

Dr Aly continued, “We know that when children access quality early childhood education and care they do better throughout life, from better health outcomes, improved school readiness and higher paying jobs later in life. These new services will ensure more First Nations children can access the transformational health and education benefits of early childhood education and care while also being better prepared for their first years of school.” The sites will be run by First Nations led organisations in the following locations:

  • Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation in Tennant Creek, NT
  • Puuya Foundation in Lockhart River, QLD
  • Napranum Aboriginal Land Council in Napranum, QLD
  • Wunan Foundation in Kununurra, WA.

The size of the four sites is expected to range from 20 to 50 First Nations children per site, jointly providing access to vital quality early childhood education and care for up to 200 children per year.

To view the Hon Dr Anne Aly MP – Minister for Early Childhood Education and Minister for Youth’s media release Delivering early childhood education and care services for remote communities in full click here.

2 Aboriginal children at early learning centre

Image source: Indi Kindi webpage, Moriarty Foundation website.

Gathering the Seeds Research Symposium

This week in Perth, a research symposium called Gathering the Seeds is underway, with the attendance of Elders from Whadjuk Noongar boodja and other parts of Australia. Taking place from 3-5 April at Burswood the symposium’s main goal is to provide a secure environment for service providers, allied health professionals, communities, and families to lead healthcare system reformation to pave the way for brighter futures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies and children.

Day one began with Professor Rhonda Marriott opening the proceedings and Tony Buti MLA, Minister of Education, Aboriginal Affairs and Citizenship, and Multicultural Interests, speeking about the importance of the Closing the Gap initiative and the need for more focus on the developmental years of babies and young children.

Professor Marriott, the Chief Investigator of the Replanting the Birthing Trees project, said the symposium has been structured using the Birthing Tree as a metaphor. The goal is to explore ways to ‘gather the seeds’ and grow a tree with firm roots, symbolising keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families together. The sturdy trunk represents continuity of care, while supportive branches refer to workforce development. Finally, fresh leaves and new growth represent a resource repository, support framework, and culturally validated assessment.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Gathering the Seeds Research Symposium: Working on a better future for First Nations children in full click here.

artwork Replanting the Birthing Trees, 2022 by Valerie Ah Chee

Replanting the Birthing Trees, 2022 by Valerie Ah Chee. Image source: Gathering the Seeds Symposium webpage, The University of Melbourne.

Call for abstracts – Ngar-wu Wanyarra conference 

The 2023 Ngar-wu Wanyarra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Conference will be held on Yorta Yorta Country in Shepparton, Victoria on Wednesday 11th October 2023. The conference is delivered by Department of Rural Health at the University of Melbourne and is in its 8th consecutive year. Meaning to ‘listen and act’ in Yorta Yorta language – the Ngar-Wu Wanyarra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander conference is a forum for cutting-edge program initiatives and research findings in Aboriginal health and wellbeing by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders, health practitioners and their colleagues.

Presenters are invited to submit their abstracts to be delivered at the conference with the opportunity to share your work, your stories and discussion of key topics across community health programs, research and First Nation knowledges. Call of Abstracts are now open and will close on 5:00p PM Monday 26 June 2023. Applications will be notified of the outcome by mid July 2023.

Further information is available on the event web page here and you can submit an abstract by clicking here.

tile Aboriginal art & text '8 Ngar-wu Wanyarra Call for Abstracts - Abstracts close 5:00 PM Monday 26 June 2023; Melbourne University logo

How microaggressions can affect health

Microaggressions are seemingly innocuous verbal, behavioural or environmental slights against members of minority communities. While term microaggressions was originally conceived in the context of race relations, microaggressions may also relate to gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability status, weight, or a combination of these. Microaggressions can occur in all environments, from the workplace, to shops, medical clinics, schools, universities, even while walking or parked on the street. So victims often become increasingly self-conscious and hypervigilant.

The impacts of microaggressions may extend beyond psychological burden and also impact the body’s physiological state. When humans perceive a sense of imminent danger, the body’s “fight, flight, freeze response” is activated. While this is a useful evolutionary mechanism to protect us from physical danger, when triggered frequently – as may be the case with microaggressions – it can take a toll on the body and contribute to issues such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and addiction.

Racial microaggressions have also been associated with suicide risk. One study found experiencing race-related microaggressions leads to more symptoms of depression, which in turn increases thoughts of suicide. Health issues among victims may be further compounded when microaggressions are experienced in the health-care sector. A study from 2011 found that sexual orientation-related microaggressions reduced the likelihood of LGBTIQ+ people seeking psychotherapy and impacted their attitudes towards therapy and therapists. Research involving Indigenous people also suggests microaggressions impact help-seeking behaviours in this group (such as not scheduling or attending regular health-care appointments), which subsequently increases the risk of hospitalisation.

To view the Asia Bulletin article What are microaggressions? And how can they affect our health? in full click here.

5 paper figures facing 1 black paper figure against blue background

Image source: Racial Microaggressions webpage of Centre of Psychological Enrichment website.

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