Indigenous eye health

State of Indigenous eye health

Indigenous eye health is still lagging behind the rest of Australia.

Blindness rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are three times higher than other Australians. Around 94 per cent of vision loss is unnecessary and much of it can be fixed overnight, yet 35 per cent of Indigenous Australians have never had an eye exam.

The leading causes of blindness and vision impairment are: uncorrected refractive error, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

In the next 10 years it is estimated that over 34,000 Indigenous Australians will be affected by low vision or blindness as a result of these four conditions.

Presbyopia (the need for reading glasses with increasing age) is the most common refractive error experienced by Aboriginal people.

While the rates of the blinding eye condition trachoma have fallen over the past five years, Australia is still the only developed country in the world where endemic levels of trachoma still exists, impacting two thirds of remote communities. 

What needs to be done?

In 2012, The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision (the Roadmap) was developed by Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne outlining 42 interlocking recommendations to improve the eye health of Indigenous Australians.

The Roadmap provides a comprehensive solution to tackling the elimination of avoidable blindness and vision loss by addressing primary eye care, refractive services, cataract, diabetic eye disease and trachoma.

Vision 2020 Australia has endorsed the Roadmap. Advocacy efforts are guided by its recommendations and advice from members working on the ground in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and vision care. 

The benefits

Following a coordinated approach, the Australian Government recently committed nearly $8 million to improve eye care coordination, monitor progress and help eliminate trachoma.

But while gains are being made in closing the gap, vision loss still accounts for 11 per cent of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Implementing the recommendations in the Roadmap, in addition to the provision of current eye care services and programs, will help restore the sight or avoid future vision loss of 34,000 Indigenous Australians, closing the gap in Indigenous eye health, as highlighted in the PwC report: Value of Indigenous sight: An economic analysis.

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