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Detecting preventable diseases key to Closing the Gap

MEDIA RELEASE

Australian governments at all levels must persist with efforts to Close the Gap on Indigenous health and life expectancy, The Fred Hollows Foundation said today.

The Close the Gap Campaign today released the 2015 Close the Gap Progress and Priorities Report, to coincide with the Prime Minister’s annual report card to Parliament on progress made to reduce Indigenous disadvantage.

The Campaign involves more than 20 of Australia’s peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health bodies, health professional bodies and human rights organisations, including The Fred Hollows Foundation, in seeking health equality based on human rights.

The Fred Hollows Foundation CEO Brian Doolan called on the Federal Government to maintain momentum on measures to Close the Gap in health between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.

He said the Campaign’s Progress and Priorities report showed that equal access to primary health care remained one of the biggest barriers to Closing the Gap in health.

“As the Close the Gap Campaign report notes, many of the medical conditions affecting the lives of Indigenous Australians can be prevented or treated, if they are detected,” Mr Doolan said.

“Vision loss among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults accounts for 11 per cent of the health gap.

“Regular eye testing is the best way to detect and prevent eye disease, but 30 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have never had an eye exam. This is particularly a problem in remote communities.”

The report identifies diabetes, which often goes undetected, as one of the key treatable chronic conditions impacting significantly on Indigenous life expectancy.

Diabetes-related blindness, or diabetic retinopathy, is approaching crisis levels in Indigenous communities.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to small blood cells at the back of the retina. There are often no early warning signs and damage is irreversible, but damage can be prevented with eye screening and laser surgery.

“The Government needs to stay the course and continue to invest in Indigenous health,” Mr Doolan said.

“Indigenous adults are six times more likely than other Australians to go blind and diabetes is the third leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Indigenous Australians.

“Already, more than one-in-three Indigenous adults have diabetes and 13 per cent have already lost vision through diabetic retinopathy.”

Mr Doolan said this week’s update on progress under Close the Gap coincides with the anniversary of the passing of Fred Hollows, more than two decades ago.

“Fred Hollows spent his life working to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians and pushed hard for their right to run their own health services,” Mr Doolan said.

“Today, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services (ACCHSs) initiate and manage health services for their own communities, in a safe and respectful way.”

The Fred Hollows Foundation works with ACCHSs and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, as well as governments and other partners to increase access to screening and treatment for eye disease, and to support training and jobs for Aboriginal community-based workers across the Northern Territory.

The Foundation also provides information to help ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can make informed decisions when accessing health care.

ENDS

Media Contact

Ann-Marie Wilcock, +61 475 691 227

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