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Close the Gap for Vision Conference

Delegates at the third national conference for Close the Gap for Vision by 2020 have explored opportunities to strengthen eye care to achieve more equitable outcomes for Indigenous patients. Discussions highlighted the need to address critical housing issues in the Northern Territory and to develop a community controlled model of holistic, integrated care.

The conference, organised by Indigenous Eye Health (IEH) at the University of Melbourne, and co-hosted with Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), was held from 14–15 March in the heart of Australia at the Alice Springs Convention Centre.

Over two days, more than 220 dedicated and passionate staff from across the eye health sector and over 60 well respected speakers from all states and territories came together to share stories and exchange solutions for their collective efforts to close the gap for vision. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) was well represented with College staff and Fellows taking part in discussions on the progress being made in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health. Optometry Australia was also well represented.

The conference featured a robust program that included key note speakers, plenary sessions, table top and poster presentations, and a series of practical workshops. Delegates had the opportunity to hear from an impressive line-up of presenters including John Paterson, CEO of AMSANT; Donna Ah Chee, CEO of Central Australian Aboriginal Congress; William Tilmouth, a senior Central Australia Aboriginal community member; and RANZCO Fellow A/ Prof Angus Turner from Lions Outback Vision.

The Minister for Aboriginal Health, Ken Wyatt, addressed the conference via video and delegates also heard from Warren Snowdon, Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Health, and Caroline Edwards, Deputy Secretary for the Department of Health, who shared their insights, including future challenges, and commended the sector’s achievements so far. Delegates also had the opportunity to hear a heartfelt address from Shaun Tatipata from The Fred Hollows Foundation, who reflected on his own experiences, and RANZCO Fellow Dr Kris Rallah-Baker, who shared a moving story, emphasising the importance of sustainable change and self-determination.

SOLUTIONS TO ROADBLOCKS

A key take away from the conference was that improvements in housing and environmental health are vital in making sure that trachoma is eliminated in remote Central Australia. Delegates responded by unanimously voting to support the Alice Springs Declaration 2019, demanding that “both levels of government urgently work to ensure that Aboriginal housing investment can be made available to address the critical housing needs in the Northern Territory and contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Territorians”.

The conference also explored how selfdetermination is critical to sustainable systems change, workforce is an area for additional activity and eye care needs to be developed within the community controlled model of holistic, integrated care with a view to address the broader determinants of health and wellbeing. The varied and tremendous work taking place around the country was highlighted, with acknowledgement that progress is being made through collectives and stakeholder groups working together, including those within regional groups.

Dr Kris Rallah-Baker described the conference as “a great event with all levels of eye care represented. There were many outstanding speakers and individuals present who delivered positive solutions to roadblocks and built on the great work already done to date”.

A/Prof Angus Turner said, “I appreciated the opportunity to advocate for the regional hub in the northwest and came away further inspired by so many like-minded passionate people to keep that fire stoked”.

A delegate tweeted, “I recently attended the National Conference for Close the Gap Vision by 2020 at Alice Springs. I walked away filled with the assurance of community voices finally being heard to assist the coalface strategies being implemented across our country”.

LEAKY PIPE AWARDS

The annual Leaky Pipe Awards were presented at the conference dinner. Each year, the awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of individuals and groups in progressing activities to close the gap for vision. RANZCO congratulates the winners of this year’s awards: Heather Wilson (Central Australia Aboriginal Congress, NT) who received the Service Delivery award, Tony Coburn (CheckUp, QLD) who received the Unsung Hero award, Jane Hager (Western NSW Eye Care Partnership and Project Officer, NSW) who received the Regional Engagement award, and Shaun Tatipata (The Fred Hollows Foundation, NT) who received the Community Leadership award. Under the night skies, delegates enjoyed entertainment from Indigenous cabaret superstar Constantina Bush.

Josie Faunce is the Communications Officer at RANZCO and attended the Close the Gap for Vision by 2020.