The National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) has welcomed Minister for Rural Health Fiona Nash's announcement of additional funding for Indigenous eye health.
Gordon Gregory, NRHA's CEO, congratulated the eye health and vision care sector, led in this matter by Vision 2020 Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee, for their strong and effective advocacy.
"The rural interest group of Optometry Australia is a member of the NRHA, and several members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health working group of Optometry Australia are also actively connected with it. Together, they and other organisations involved in Indigenous eye health had a strong presence at the 13th National Rural Health Conference in May," Mr Gregory said.
As a result, the need for urgent action on Indigenous eye health was a priority proposal from the Conference and was endorsed by the Alliance's thirty-seven member bodies.
A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, The Value of Indigenous Sight, highlighted the seriousness of the challenge:
- Indigenous people over the age of 40 have six times more blindness than other Australians;
- 94 percent of the vision loss experienced by Indigenous Australians is preventable or treatable; and
- 35 percent of Indigenous adults have never had an eye examination.
That same report pointed out that investing in Indigenous eye care would be highly cost-effective and would provide savings over the long term for the Australian health system.
Minister Nash has announced that $4.6 million over four years from 2015-16 has been committed to support eye health coordination. Coordination may include working with local hospital networks, Primary Health Networks and Indigenous health services to ensure that use of local service providers and existing health systems is maximised.
The key to effective coordination is on-the-ground work linking patients, primary care services, and eye care services at all levels to ensure people receive the care they need to prevent avoidable vision loss.
A further $1.6 million over two years will be committed to the Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the University of Melbourne to undertake trachoma health promotion. Australia is the only developed country in the world where blinding trachoma still exists, and it occurs almost exclusively in remote and very remote Indigenous communities.
The need for regular and reliable eye care services for Australians living in remote areas also highlights the importance of other initiatives funded by Commonwealth Department of Health, such as the Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS) and visiting ophthalmology services such as those funded through the Rural Health Outreach Fund (RHOF).