Spectacles will become more affordable for up to 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people following an AU$2 million investment by the Australian Government.
The one-off funds have been allocated to Vision 2020 Australia to work with the Australian Government to encourage State and Territory Governments to enhance the existing arrangements for subsidising the cost of spectacles.
Optometry Australia’s CEO Lyn Brodie welcomed the funding and said her organisation had been lobbying the government since 2013 to support the scheme. She said Optometry Australia had strongly emphasised higher rates of blindness and low vision amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared with the wider Australian population. Additionally, Optometry Australia raised concerns about the lack of cohesion around, in particular, subsidised spectacle schemes operating throughout Australia.
We need to do what we can to provide cost certainty and affordable access to prescription spectacles for our people
“Much of this disparity results from uncorrected refractive error along with financial and/or geographical barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing eye care and needed spectacles”, said Ms. Brodie.
“Although operating in all jurisdictions throughout Australia, existing schemes are inconsistent in their approach and not always achieving the best outcomes,” said Ms. Brodie. “Our advice to the government was that improved eye health would play an important role in its Closing the Gap initiative which aims to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We argued that this could be achieved through the introduction of a set of principles and recommended standards that could be applied across all jurisdictions to facilitate improved accessibility to optometrists and vision correction services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We are delighted that the Turnbull Government has agreed to promote these principles and standards and to financially contribute to support the states in the adoption of these standards”, said Ms. Brodie.
“We see this as being an important step in providing greater access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access eye health care and better eye health and vision outcomes. Not only will this result in refractive errors being identified and treated, but the opportunity to detect more serious vision-threatening diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma.
Dr. Dawn Casey, Acting Deputy CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and Chair of the Vision 2020 Australia policy committee for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health welcomed the investment.
“Under some State and Territory schemes at the moment, only a third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people needing glasses are actually receiving them. We need to do what we can to provide cost certainty and affordable access to prescription spectacles for our people.”
Minister for Indigenous Health the Hon. Ken Wyatt said, “While subsidised spectacle schemes exist in all Australian states and territories, the existing schemes vary and in some cases, have limited impact in overcoming barriers to access. This new investment is being provided to encourage State and Territory Governments to work with Vision 2020 Australia to establish a nationally consistent approach to spectacle subsidies.”
“We want to remove affordability barriers so Aboriginal people can get glasses when they need them, regardless of where they live.”
Vision 2020 Australia CEO Judith Abbott said, “Our members have been actively advocating for this investment that will help make spectacles more affordable for up to 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across our country.”
“Around 60 per cent of blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is due to issues that can be corrected with glasses, so this is a very positive step. We look forward to working with the government as part of Vision 2020 Australia’s ongoing commitment with our members to reduce blindness and vision loss.”