The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists is using the message of World Sight Day – Eye care for all – to remind the Federal Government of the valuable contribution its sight saving program IRIS was making to help close the gap on eye health services for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians before funding for it was cut.
IRIS (the Indigenous and Remote Eye Health Service) ran from 2010 to 2014 and was responsible for delivering more than 2,000 eye procedures to Australians living in the country’s most remote and poorly-serviced areas.
The vast majority of procedures completed by IRIS were cataract operations, contributing significantly to addressing the most common cause of blindness requiring specialist intervention in Indigenous adults in Australia.
Whilst some services established by IRIS have been maintained, many have not, and services planned for critical areas now remain unresolved.
IRIS Taskforce Deputy Chair and prominent Australian ophthalmologist Dr Bill Glasson says major service gaps that IRIS had filled while in operation were now, sadly, developing once more.
“Much of the service infrastructure that was put in place and of course the visiting eye teams going in, working on the ground, that’s all been scaled back since funding stopped,” Dr Glasson says.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he says.
The innovative and highly successful program was established with government backing in 2010.
A key part of it’s charter was to conduct reliable and repeatable outreach clinics offering both surgical and outpatient services in remote parts of the country. These services significantly reduced the length of time patients were waiting to receive treatment for various eye conditions and also ensured patients were treated by some of Australias leading eye surgeons.
IRIS ran on an annual funding commitment of just $1.5 million. There has recently been very significant funding allocated to Indigenous eye health areas that are important but no way near as important as the delivery of cataract surgery.
Dr Glasson says the innovative and cost-clever approach of IRIS program was whatm made it so effective.
“It’s hard to fathom why the government would turn its back on a program that is making real inroads and one that calls for what really is a very meagre monetary outlay,” Dr Glasson says.
“Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians want IRIS back. It should be reinstated because all Australians are entitled to quality eye services,” he says.
“World Sight Day says it best – Eye care for all.”