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Budget must close the gap for vision

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The Australian Government must help to close the gap for vision by supporting better eye health and vision care outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in this year’s Federal Budget.

Significant and troubling eye health inequities exist between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.

Among these is the prevalence of vision impairment and blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – three times that of non-Indigenous Australians.

Vision 2020 Australia and the eye health and vision care sector are calling on the Australian Government to reinforce its commitment to equitable eye health and vision care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when the 2017-18 Budget is handed down on 9 May.

Carla Northam, CEO of Vision 2020 Australia, says: ‘Focusing on eye health and vision care is an important part of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

‘The eye health and vision care sector has a long history of collaboration and utilising its collective expertise to identify policy priorities in this area.

‘But, ultimately, the sector requires the support of the Australian Government to improve eye health and vision care outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’

Despite poor eye health and vision care outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, around 90 per cent of vision impairment and blindness is preventable or treatable, highlighting the need for continued funding and policy support at a national level.

Jaki Adams-Barton, Chair of the Vision 2020 Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee and Manager of The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program, says there are a number of areas that require urgent attention.

‘Uncorrected refractive error causes almost two-thirds of vision impairment among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Although spectacles are the easiest and most cost-effective solution, Australia is yet to implement a nationally consistent subsidised spectacles scheme, which would help improve access to prescription glasses in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,’ Ms Adams-Barton says.

‘Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, yet backlogs prevent access to surgeries that allow people to instantly see. Equitable access to eye health care services is critical to reducing high rates of avoidable blindness, and systems need to immediately react, and also be reformed, to ensure this is sustainable in the future.

‘Australia is the only developed country in the world to still have active trachoma in remote Aboriginal communities. While the numbers are low, it unfortunately still exists. We need to implement the World Health Organisation’s SAFE strategy in its entirety, specifically focusing on the Environmental element, to eliminate trachoma by 2020 and ensure measures are sustainable into the future.’

Ms Northam says: ‘Coordination is key to the delivery of successful eye health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly those in regional and remote areas.

‘Vision 2020 Australia looks forward to seeing what the 2017-18 Federal Budget holds, and, beyond that, continuing to work with the sector and the Australian Government to improve eye health and vision care outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.’

See our full 2017-18 Federal Budget analysis

ENDS

For more information: Adam Sawell at Vision 2020 Australia

03 9656 2020, 0401 096 507 or asawell@vision2020australia.org.au

About Vision 2020 Australia

As the national peak body for the eye health and vision care sector, Vision 2020 Australia represents over 50 member organisations involved in: local and global eye care; health promotion; low vision support; vision rehabilitation; eye research; professional assistance; and community support. Established in October 2000, Vision 2020 Australia is part of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a global initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). For more information visit: www.vision2020australia.org.au

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