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CEO eBulletin - August 2015

The Vision 2020 Australia team has been busy working on a range of funding proposals, inquiry submissions and general advocacy. In this eBulletin edition feautures the highlights for the year so far and what we are working towards in the coming months. 

Message from the Chair

The Hon Amanda Vanstone, Chair of Vision 2020 Australia.

Watch the Chair's message on YouTube or download the transcript

Table of contents 

Farewell to a giant and visionary

Yesterday, with a heavy heart, we farewelled our dear friend and colleague Professor Brien Holden. A giant of our sector, Brien has made a lasting difference to the science, optometry and humanitarian worlds. 

At such a sad time it has been heartening to read all the wonderful tributes and condolences coming in from around the world, a true reflection of the reach and impact of Brien’s work. This support is a reminder of the importance of, and strength that is gained from, unity in our sector, both locally and globally.  

Vision 2020 Australia’s Board and staff offer their deepest condolences to Brien’s family, friends and the team at the Brien Holden Vision Institute. Brien was such a driving force in the fight against avoidable blindness, which is why his legacy is so great.

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National Eye Health Survey will be completed!

The Federal Government recently committed the final $650,000 needed to enable the completion of the National Eye Health Survey.

Officially launched by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister the Hon Alan Tudge last month, recruitment and testing by the Centre for Eye Research Australia has already been completed in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and is underway in Victoria and New South Wales, with activity to move into Western Australia and Queensland in the following months.

The Government’s recent allocation of $650,000 takes the Government’s total contribution to around $1.8 million, with an additional $1 million contribution coming from non-government and private sectors. 

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Funding hopeful for Close the Gap proposal  

The Assistant Minister for Health, Senator the Hon Fiona Nash’s office has advised Vision 2020 Australia that a funding decision is imminent on the Close the Gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health and Vision Care sector funding proposal.

The proposal put forward eight strategic recommendations identified by the sector required to close the gap. Immediate priorities relate to eye health system coordination and a national oversight function to help improve the efficiency of services on the ground. 

Close to $1 million for coordination and $1.5 million to reduce the backlog of eye and ear surgical services has already been allocated to fundholders within each jurisdiction from residual 2014-15 Department funds. Details on how these funds will be utilised are to be determined with additional resources outlined in the sectors proposal still under consideration.

The proposal is a truly collaborative and unified approach from the sector. Given the diversity of organisations and the unique challenges each faces, this is a notable achievement in itself. While headway has been made, in order to improve the delivery and equity of services in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the magnitude of effort must be increased. 

Moving forward Vision 2020 Australia will continue to advocate for the adoption of all recommendations in the proposal, which are crucial to achieving a positive response to the eye health and vision care needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

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Global advocacy moves in-country

Federal Government Budget cuts to foreign aid are not only disappointing, but will have a significant impact in the region and prove detrimental to Australia’s international reputation as a global leader in preventable blindness. Many Vision 2020 Australia members are feeling the pinch, having to cut not only important programs, but reduce staff numbers as well, which is a devastating outcome for all concerned.

While the Australian Government’s support for the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium will not continue beyond the end of the current East Asia Vision Program, Consortium members have confirmed their commitment to the collaboration, learning and coordination that has resulted from the Consortium’s work. The commitment of Global Consortium members is significant for the sector as it demonstrates the value and strength of collaboration in the face of adversity.

With the Australian Government stepping back from their support for avoidable blindness initiatives it is interesting to note that during the recent Senate Estimates committee hearing, Senator Lisa Singh questioned Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) representatives over funding for eye health and the Global Consortium. DFAT responses confirmed that while addressing eye health is important, it is not considered one of the priority health areas to be funded by the Australian aid program. They emphasised that if our partner governments want DFAT to consider eye health as a priority then this needs to be communicated directly by them to DFAT posts in country. 

Global Consortium members and partners are working with Vision 2020 Australia to implement an in-country advocacy strategy to secure Ministry support for eye health as a development priority. The strategy will be rolled out in a number of countries in our region starting with Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. 

In a recent meeting, the Solomon Island’s Prime Minister indicated that he will work to further strengthen eye care as a key priority and he thanked donor governments and NGOs for their partnership which has helped establish a strong eye care future for Solomon Islands.  

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Survey evaluation tool to collect NDIS data

Legislation underpinning the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is scheduled for review in 2015. This is an opportunity for Vision 2020 Australia and its members to advocate for the NDIS to appropriately address the support needs of people who are blind and vision impaired. To facilitate this advocacy, Vision 2020 Australia has developed an evaluation tool for members to record data and provide an evidence base on what is working well, what can be improved and where the gaps are within the NDIS trial sites.

The evaluation tool has a quantitative phase followed by a qualitative phase. The quantitative phase includes data such as the total number of clients accessing an NDIS package, their presenting eye conditions and what types of services and supports they access.

The qualitative phase will gather deeper anecdotal evidence about the trends found within the quantitative data. One-on-one discussions with member organisations in this phase will shed light on the experiences of service provision organisations and clients, explore ineligibility issues, and provide an overall sense of satisfaction levels with the process so far.

The two types of data collected in this evaluation will combine to form a national picture of how the NDIS has been working in practice. This is an exciting opportunity to strengthen the evidence base to shape and improve the NDIS for people who are blind or vision impaired as it starts its full rollout next year.

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New funding for the Vision Initiative 

Victoria’s eye health received a boost in May following the commitment by the Victorian State Government to fund the Vision Initiative for a further four years, allocating $3.6 million to the program. 

The new funding will see eye health prevention activity rolled out to eight new local government areas (four every two years) by bringing primary health and eye health professionals together to identify those at risk of avoidable blindness and vision loss and encouraging people to have regular eye tests.

Evaluation of the four pilot projects is nearing completion and will be available shortly. 

Meanwhile, the Vision Initiative Steering Committee is looking to the future, electing Sheila O’Sullivan as its Chair for a further four years, and continuing to work towards building strong relationships between the health and eye health sectors across Victoria. 

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Diabetes Blindness Prevention Program 

With diabetes on the rise across the nation the Australian Government has identified this chronic illness as a key health priority and has committed to the development of a new National Diabetes Strategy. With the rise of diabetes comes the rise of blindness and vision loss from diabetic eye disease, a key priority in the National Framework for Action to Promote Eye Health and Prevent Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss.

In response to this, Vision 2020 Australia and Diabetes Australia convened a Diabetes Blindness Prevention Program working group in late 2014, which brought together experts from the diabetes and eye health sectors. The working group has developed a draft proposal to address prevention of diabetes related blindness and vision loss. 

The Diabetes Blindness Prevention Program proposal outlines an approach to reduce vision loss from eye disease due to diabetes in the Australian population through systematic early detection, early intervention and e-health optimised coordination. 

The working group is currently seeking advice from the Commonwealth Department of Health around the proposed myHealth Record trials before finalising and presenting the proposal to the Minister for Health, the Hon Sussan Ley.

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World Sight Day to take to social media

Vision 2020 Australia is excited to announce that this year a social media campaign will be the focus of World Sight Day activity. The campaign which will be public facing aims to raise awareness of the importance of eye health across social media platforms.

Taking the lead from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, Vision 2020 Australia will adopt the ‘Eye care for all’ theme in advocacy activity, including the Parliamentary Friends Group dinner on 14 September. 

World Sight Day this year falls on Thursday, 8 October and information about the campaign and how members can be involved in this activity will be circulated in the coming weeks.

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CEO message 

As highlighted throughout this edition of the eBulletin, collaboration and unity within the sector is a key element for success and this has been demonstrated by our members time and time again. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our members for their continued support and commitment which strengthens the sector and demonstrates a united front.

I would also like to thank the Centre for Eye Research Australia and the Australian College of Optometry who have recently increased their membership level. CBM Australia continues to provide financial support to our global advocacy efforts in addition to their membership fee, while The Fred Hollows Foundation provides in-kind support to our advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and vision care. I also acknowledge the time commitment of those members who participate on our various policy and program committees. Your contributions are incredibly valuable and I thank you for the support.

I look forward to continuing to work with you all over the coming months to achieve our collective goals of reducing avoidable blindness and ensuring the full participation of people who are blind or vision impaired in the community.  

Kind regards

Jennifer

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