What an amazing 10 months it has been! The journey began in early March last year in Rowville, Victoria – the first testing site for the National Eye Health Survey (NEHS). Following testing at the first site I had the privilege to discover Australia by visiting not only metropolitan cities of major states, but also some amazing remote towns and territories. It is through these experiences that I have been able to meet an array of different people, all with unique stories and personalities. However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. This journey that the NEHS team has embarked upon has had many challenges and joys.
The NEHS is the first nationwide study into the burden of vision loss in Australia, as current statistics on vision loss are based on data that is more than twenty years old. So this survey will provide a baseline for future health and eye health programs, providing up-to-date prevalence rates on blindness and low vision for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
As this is the first survey of its kind in Australia, it is difficult to compare to anything else. Conducting eye examinations across 30 Australian sites, in urban, regional and remote locations presents a range of different challenges. From how equipment will be transported, to the time period of clinics, to accommodation and finance. The list goes on!
Growing up in a metropolitan area you tend to take things for granted. When visiting the many remote areas of Australia that do not have access to the many options of eye care services that we do, I realised how lucky I am. This was particularly noteworthy when visiting Indigenous communities, where quite a number of participants who we examined had never had an eye test. Taking these individuals through the examination and providing them with verbal feedback of their results, I noticed how grateful they were. This made me feel like I was making a real difference. It was refreshing! Sometimes you can get so caught up on meeting targets that you forget what you are really there for.
So far, the NEHS team have done extremely well, having completed examinations in 23 out of the 30 sites. The success that we have been able to achieve comes down to a great team. The travel around Australia has been great, but at times difficult with long hours, extended periods away from home and living in close quarters with a group of people who we had only met at the commencement of the project. Yes, there have been clashes and arguments, but this is typical of families. And that is what we have become – a family. We have enjoyed great experiences together that we will all never forget.
We are all aware this is a unique privilege we have. It’s not just the travel or the exposure to different ways of life, it’s more than that. It’s the privilege to begin something that will have a positive effect on those who truly need it.