Last month I was fortunate to attend the Close the Gap for Vision by 2020 National Conference 2017, presented by Indigenous Eye Health.
Coinciding with National Close the Gap Day, a diverse range of more than 100 service providers, research organisations and representatives working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye care across Australia attended the conference – from the IDEAS Van to the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA).
Across two days, representatives offered insights into their valuable work and were keen to share approaches.
While data sharing, strengthening health systems and embedding eye health in primary and chronic care were just some of the actions called for, the common theme linking all of these actions was the need to establish partnerships, as well as enhance and improve upon those that already exist.
Presenters such as Lisa Penrose, from the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) in South East Queensland, touched on the implementation of the Deadly Urban Eyes campaign, a strong example of a successful partnership within the eye health sector. The campaign received funding from The Fred Hollows Foundation and adds a new element to IUIH’s existing Deadly Choices initiative, which has had much success since its launch in 2010.
Other speakers, such as those representing the NSW Rural Doctors Network, tellingly spoke of the need to embed eye health in primary and chronic care services. It became clear that this approach can only be achieved through strong partnerships and collaboration between the eye health sector and other professionals within the primary health care system, such as General Practitioners and local health service providers.
Photo caption: Over 120 attendees gathered in Melbourne in March for the Close the Gap for Vision by 2020 National Conference 2017 at the University of Melbourne. Photography by Indigenous Eye Health, The University of Melbourne.
A clear thread emerging throughout the presentations was that in order to facilitate strong partnerships and effective collaboration, the health system itself must be appropriately coordinated. Anna Morse, from the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI), highlighted that coordination has many different meanings and is multi-dimensional, comprising of a number of different layers. When effective, coordination should bring together all of the layers of eye health and vision care services.
Bringing these layers together involves working collaboratively and in partnership with those involved in all levels of the provision of eye health services. This includes on-the-ground services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, Primary Health Networks, state and territory governments and the Australian Government. Improving access to eye and vision care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must focus on the continuum of services and those who provide them.
As a new staff member with Vision 2020 Australia, the Close the Gap for Vision by 2020 National Conference was not only a powerful reminder of the inequities that exist between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. It was a valuable introduction to how these inequities are experienced in eye health specifically and the work that remains to Close the Gap.
For Vision 2020 Australia and its members, advocating to close the gap for vision centres around partnerships and collaboration operating within a well-coordinated system. Vision 2020 Australia strongly believes that the Australian Government must continue to build on its previous investments in coordination both on the ground and at the regional level, while also acknowledging that it has contributed significantly to improving eye health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Nationally consistent implementation of coordination and service delivery at regional and local levels would ensure that common issues are dealt with consistently, while also empowering service providers within different regions to respond to regional variances. This will ensure eye health and vision care is delivered collaboratively and effectively through strong partnerships.