Based at Melbourne University under the leadership of Melbourne Laureate Professor Hugh Taylor AC, Indigenous Eye Health (IEH) has initiated Australia-wide, comprehensive approaches to systems improvement and reform for the eye health of all Indigenous Australians. The project is implementing the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision, to eliminate this inequitable burden of eye disease. Roadmap implementation activities now cover over 60% of the Australian Indigenous population and trachoma national prevalence rates are below 5%.
The National Indigenous Eye Health Survey conducted in 2008 found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have fewer vision problems than other Australians but Indigenous adults suffer six times more blindness. This meant there were 15,000 Indigenous Australians with vision loss; and this would increase to 30,000 by 2030 without sustainable systems reform under IEH’s leadership, which can reduce this number to 2,000.
IEH provides world-quality research, advocacy, and technical assistance to develop regional population-based eye services in collaboration with the Aboriginal community-controlled sector, the eye-care sector, government and non-government organisations and mainstream health care providers.
Aims & Objectives
The overarching aim of this project was to successfully and sustainably eliminate preventable eye disease in Australia’s Indigenous communities. IEH’s policy framework, the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision, was published in 2012 and the project goal was to implement Roadmap recommendations, by:
- Securing full federal/state government commitment and funding
- Assisting and encouraging state/territory/regional implementation of recommendations
- Supporting, encouraging and providing leadership to the eye health and community-controlled sectors and government to implement recommendations
- Assisting and advocating for the establishment of national oversight and accountability
- Assisting and encouraging the elimination of endemic trachoma and providing technical support and advice.
Following IEH's development of the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision, launched in 2012, this project has continued to build strong foundations and partnerships with key stakeholders including Indigenous communities and organisations, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, Optometry Australia, Vision 2020 Australia, the non-government sector and state and federal governments.
Collective efforts with IEH providing backbone leadership and support has focused on population-level interventions, systems integration and sustainability. IEH has published grey and peer reviewed articles, presented extensively in conference and meetings, ran a range of stakeholder roundtables, lobbied continuously, participated in stakeholder and governance committees and produced resources to support Roadmap implementation and systems change.
In March 2017, IEH ran the inaugural Close the Gap for Vision by 2020 National Conference. Over 100 stakeholders from all jurisdictions attended the conference, endorsed the target date of 2020 and requested annual conferences leading to 2020.
Government funding was secured to support:
- Roadmap implementation 2013-2014, 2014-2016, 2016-2019
- trachoma health promotion for 2015-2017, 2017-2021
- diabetic retinal screening from 2016, and
- purchasing cameras and training Aboriginal health services for diabetic eye screening 2016-2019.
Roadmap regional implementation is now observed in 37 out of an estimated 51 Roadmap regions, while 19 of 31 Primary Health Networks have been engaged to introduce Roadmap activities.
Improved operational capacity and outcomes have been demonstrated in a number of regions including the Grampians in Victoria. Optometry services were increased 5-fold; additional eye-care equipment was purchased; eye health promotion resources were developed and activities commenced; diabetic eye exams increased 55%; cataract surgery increased 64% and uptake of subsidised glasses increased by 50%.
Project outcomes are regularly shared through journal publications, newsletters, grey publications (including roundtable reports), social media, conference presentations, peak body committee meetings and participation in many jurisdictional, regional and Roadmap activity-based meetings.
Unlike many illnesses and disabilities, most poor eye health is preventable. Australia is the only developed country to still have endemic trachoma – a problem that shouldn't be tolerated in this century.
This project has made significant, sustainable progress towards addressing the gross disparities in eye health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; currently 16 of 42 Roadmap recommendations and 67% of progress steps have been achieved.
IEH will continue its leadership to eliminate endemic trachoma, reduce vision loss and provide the highest-quality services to bring improved eye health and vision to all Indigenous Australians and close the gap for vision.
Emma Stanford, Senior Research Fellow in Indigenous Eye Health
With this grant, The Ian Potter Foundation invested in a long-term project aiming to eradicate trachoma in Australia. This is a bold, necessary, and feasible project. Although not without its challenges – remote locations, associated costs, developing the ongoing support and engagement of Indigenous Communities – this project is achieving its goals in a a systematic and sustainable way.
Dr Alberto Furlan, Senior Program Manager