The 2018 update on the implementation of the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision has been launched at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) 50th annual scientific congress in Adelaide.
Mr. Shane Mohor, CEO of the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia (AHCSA) – the peak body for Aboriginal health in South Australia – launched the update, describing it as, “whole of system approach” and “a fantastic effort in terms of addressing some major issues regarding eye health for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians”.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on cultural safety to make sure that when mainstream services are accessed, patients are treated in a culturally respectful way
Mr. Mohor said that while eye health and good vision is important for everyone, it is a particularly important issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people.
“It accounts for the significant proportion of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and I’m pleased to report progress is being made,” said Mr. Mohor.
In this year’s Update, the Indigenous Eye Health group at Melbourne University, founded and led by Laureate Professor Hugh Taylor AC, reported on behalf of the sector that 74 per cent of the planned activities to close the gap for vision have been completed with 19 recommendations out of 42 now fully implemented.
Whereas in 2008, blindness in Indigenous Australians was six times higher than non-Indigenous Australians, today blindness in Indigenous Australians is three times higher than non-Indigenous Australians.
“There is however still work to be done to close the gap to meet the 2020 deadline,” said Mr Mohor.
Speaking of the progress, Professor Hugh reported that the rate of diabetic retinopathy eye exams and regular eye exams had increased nearly three-fold, and the rate of cataract surgery is improving and getting closer to the non-Indigenous rates. Funding has been increased for the Visiting Optometrists Scheme and for the ophthalmology outreach and cataract surgery programs. South Australia is doing a “super job” to reduce and eliminate trachoma and similar progress is being made in Western Australia and Northern Territory, however to promote good standards of hygiene amongst children, attention needs to be paid to ensure washroom facilities are adequately maintained in remote communities.
Professor Taylor stressed the importance of working closely with community control organisations and the state affiliates such as AHCSA.
“The Roadmap is based around helping regional coordinating groups to coordinate eye care efficiently and effectively. There are now regional coordinating partnership groups in 53 of the 63 regions and those properly funded are working really well. Funding is needed to support the other regional stakeholder groups, along with increased funding to assist with case management and the patient journey when patients are referred for further treatment.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on cultural safety to make sure that when mainstream services are accessed, patients are treated in a culturally respectful way.”
Speaking of the recent refresh to the Closing the Gap framework, targets and performance indicators, Professor Taylor said, “The goal is to try to close the gap for vision by the end of 2020 – there is good hope that this will be achieved, but it’s got to be part of the broader Close the Gap process. The Aboriginal sector needs to be able to participate and discuss what’s happening in the Close the Gap refresh. The First Nation’s voice is critically important and so much of it is buried in the recommendation of the Uluru Statement of the Heart, which is something we all need to be pushing for to make sure it is accepted.”
Incoming president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), Professor Heather Mack spoke at the launch of the update to the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision. Prof. Mack confirmed the College’s continued commitment to, and endorsement of, the Roadmap and said RANZCO is committed to working with the Indigenous community to continue to improve eye care outcomes.