The Observatory

Taking a community-led approach to trachoma

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has divided trachoma treatment into four areas.  Two treatments are clinical: Surgery and Antibiotics.  The other two areas of treatment are public health actions in Facial hygiene and Environmental health (referred to as the WHO SAFE strategy).

In Australia trachoma is an Indigenous health issue that affects some 60 per cent* of remote Indigenous communities.

It is the last two areas of the SAFE strategy that are the focus of the Australian Trachoma Alliance (ATA) in its work with remote Indigenous communities, 60 per cent of which experience endemic blinding trachoma. Its Safe Eyes program relies upon the effective engagement, ownership and leadership by each community to address hygiene and environmental health factors which lead to the spread of trachoma and other hygiene-related disease.  The program is developed and implemented by each community, and the program’s success will ultimately be evaluated and owned by each community.

The success of Safe Eyes depends upon each community’s attempts to lead and own the elimination of trachoma (and other hygiene-related disease) and assumes:

  • significant investment and commitment to change in public health behaviours at the individual, family (home) and community levels
  • community-led and owned solutions are sustainable because they are embedded in the community itself, and also because these solutions have valued and included local context in their development.

Safe Eyes had been developed by the Australian Trachoma Alliance and three trial communities in remote central Australia: Yalata (South Australia), Kiwirrkurra (Western Australia) and Utju (Areyonga, Northern Territory).  These communities have been selected because they have established health services. These are provided by the following Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS): Tullawon Health Service Inc., Ngaanyatjarra Health Service and the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.

As part of the program, the Australian Trachoma Alliance recently attended a Health Expo at Kiwirrkurra community in remote Western Australia attended by 120 community members.  Not only was the bouncy castle a big hit with the kids, but the clear and concise messages promoting hygiene, healthy lifestyle and environmental health were well received and understood. The ATA would like to thank and their public health team of community service workers from Kiwirrkurra and surrounding communities for organising such an effective and engaging community event.

One little known champion of both the global and Australia’s efforts to eradicate trachoma is our head of state, Queen Elizabeth. To mark her 60-year reign she is reaching out to communities across the world to help to eliminate causes of preventable blindness. The Queen is hoping that in Australia we can work to address factors that perpetuate this infection to ensure that nobody suffers vision loss in the future as a result of this condition.

General Michael Jeffery has been appointed to be the Queen’s representative in Australia to work with communities to eliminate trachoma.  On behalf of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Australia, General Jeffery, working with National Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) as the lead organisation, has formed the Australian Trachoma Alliance.  The ATA includes representatives from the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Australia, NACCHO, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Vision 2020 Australia and Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne to provide support and expertise.

*University of Melbourne, The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision, September 2015

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About the Author

Daniel Suggit

Daniel Suggit is guest blogger from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO). NACCHO is the national peak body for over 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCHOs). ACCHOs provide a range of culturally appropriate holistic primary health care services to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in urban, regional and remote locations across the country. author's posts
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