Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Subsidised Spectacles Scheme (NSSS)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities face a disproportionately higher risk of blindness and low vision, with a threefold increased likelihood compared to the wider Australian population. A significant contributor to visual impairment is uncorrected refractive error. Recognising the presence of cultural, financial, and geographical barriers, the National Subsidised Spectacles Scheme (NSSS) was developed to address these challenges and enhance access to eye care and corrective lenses.

The NSSS Project, operating from 2018 to 2023, aimed to improve access to affordable prescription spectacles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia. Vision 2020 Australia led the initiative in collaboration with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.

Project Elements

The NSSS project encompassed seven key elements:

  • Expanding availability of subsidised glasses and strengthening of underpinning systems in six jurisdictions.
  • Increasing community engagement to enhance understanding and connection to existing spectacles subsidy schemes.
  • Piloting innovative, community led models to improve access to spectacles in Northern Territory and Western Australia.
  • Gathering data about what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities see as a priority for eye health and vision care (PrioritEYES Survey) and utilising findings to inform the allocation of one-off funds to improve local eye care (PrioritEYES Project).
  • A community led pilot project in Tasmania to address specific challenges in accessing subsidised glasses in parts of the state.
  • Evaluation of the NSSS Project.
  • An innovation project to collate evidence and experience that could inform the development and roll out of community led eye care models.

Project Outcomes

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NSSS Project achieved numerous successes, including:

  • Distribution of 11,529 spectacles across seven jurisdictions.
  • Implementation of system changes in six jurisdictions, enhancing existing spectacles subsidy schemes.
  • Execution of community engagement activities in five jurisdictions, raising awareness of available spectacles subsidy schemes.
  • Completion of the PrioritEYES Survey by 115 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) to support future community-led decision-making. The PrioritEYES Survey Report is set for public release in 2024.
  • Completion of the NSSS evaluation and innovation elements, providing recommendations to support Indigenous-led spectacles subsidy schemes and primary eye care services in the future.

Future Impact

The results of the NSSS Project are anticipated to influence jurisdictional system changes and advocacy efforts concerning eye health and vision care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, paving the way for a more inclusive and accessible future.

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