Indigenous eye health, diabetes-related eye disease and support for people with low vision were among the Federal Government’s priorities for eye health and vision care according to Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Shayne Neumann.
The comments came at the Vision 2020 Australia Vision Summit held in Sydney last week which was attended by more than 40 CEOs from leading eye health and vision care organisations.
“There are priorities in terms of Indigenous eye health, preventable eye disease in relation to diabetes, support for people with low vision and improving the evidence base,” Mr Neumann said.
Mr Neumann said $16 million had already been committed to trachoma control activities and Indigenous eye health would be an ongoing health priority over the next three years.
“We do know that 52 per cent of Australia’s population already experience some sort of problems with their eyesight,” Mr Neumann said.
“We need to take dramatic steps to reduce avoidable blindness,” he said.
The development and funding of an implementation plan for the National Framework for Action to Promote Eye Health and Prevent Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss was among the key topics for the sector at the Vision Summit.
Access to data to enable effective evaluation of the plan was also considered critical.
According to CEO of Vision 2020 Australia, Jennifer Gersbeck, the sector is calling on both sides of politics in the lead up to the Federal Election to fund a national eye health survey as the data that the sector currently has dates back to the 1990s.
Mr Neumann acknowledged that there was a need to work together to address priorities of the National Framework Implementation Plan.
“We have to work together to achieve these goals and have a consistent approach to avoidable blindness and vision loss,” Mr Neumann said.
Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers Amanda Rishworth was also among the Government panel members in attendance at the Summit.
Ms Rishworth said the Australian Government was committed to addressing a broad range of issues affecting Australians with disabilities including blindness.
Among the questions asked was what the Government is doing for people who are blind or vision impaired to ensure they have equitable support over the age of 65.
“We have a vision to make sure that the DisabilityCare system as well as the aged care system centre on the individual and ensure that the needs of that individual are met,” Ms Rishworth said.
“When it comes to older Australians and the Living Longer Living Better Home Care Packages we have seen a lot of reform in that area in terms of more flexibility, more packages, greater ability to stay at home, and a range of supports,” she said.
Mr Neumann added that he wanted to ensure packages for the over 65s in the future would align more closely with the packages received under DisabilityCare Australia.
The Government also committed to reviewing what could be done to establish an advisory committee to examine the interface between DisabilityCare Australia and Aged Care.
Ms Gersbeck said the commitment from the Government to explore the possibility of an advisory committee was a positive step.
“The sector is pleased that the Government is taking onboard the issue that older Australians must have the same supports as their younger counterparts, especially as this group makes up the vast majority of people who are blind or vision impaired,” Ms Gersbeck said.
Low vision service providers also called on the Government to explain why dog guides were not included on the DisabilityCare Australia website.
Ms Rishworth said dog guides were difficult to price and would vary depending on a person’s requirements and needs over time. She told the audience that as a result individual organisations would need to negotiate with suppliers. She reassured the sector that dog guides are included in DisabilityCare Australia.
The eye health and vision care sector was also urged to make more applications for research funding.
Mr Neumann said that the Australian Labor Government had increased funding over the past few years and that only a small number of research applications were received in relation to eye research.
Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Senator Matt Thistlethwaite affirmed the Government’s commitment to eye health in the region.
Louise Rudzki, Vision 2020 Australia, (03) 9656 2020, 0414 784 359, email@example.com