World Sight Day – this year on Thursday 8 October – is an annual day of awareness to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment.
Established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2000, the theme for this year’s World Sight Day is Hope in Sight.
As we know, globally, at least 2.2 billion people have vision impairment or blindness. Over one billion cases could have been prevented or are yet to be addressed.1
Furthermore, 65 million people are blind or have impaired sight and yet their vision could have been corrected overnight with a cataract operation.1
In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have six times the rates of blindness as non-Indigenous Australians and three times the rates of vision loss.
In New Zealand it’s a similar story with cataracts and other lens disorders 1.5–2 times as prevalent in Māori compared to non-Māori people up to the age of 84. Additionally, Māori and Pasifika people are overrepresented in populations with diabetic eye disease.3
While many individuals, agencies and organisations work to improve eye care for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Māori and Pasifika people, it feels like it’s taking too long to close the gap in this part of the world where the majority are incredibly fortunate.
Mitchell Anjou AM, Indigenous eye health advocate and optometrist, says a key to change is to encourage more Indigenous practitioners into the workforce because their “combined understanding of culture, community and optometry… can provide the greatest insight into how we might further improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye care”.
Optometry Australia’s latest membership renewal form encouraged members to identify if they are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, and if so, if they’d like to explore opportunities to contribute to the Association.
In November 2019, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) released its Reconciliation Action Plan, which outgoing President Dr Heather Mack told mivision is “an acknowledgement of our First Nations Peoples, and brings to the forefront the need to consider diversity of all kinds, across all aspects of RANZCO’s operations”. A Māori Action Plan will be launched in 2021.
Practitioners, at an individual level, can take steps to make Indigenous people feel comfortable in their practice – www.reconciliation.org.au/ offers useful resources.
These initiatives are vital steps towards closing the gap that can’t come soon enough.
Something to think about on World Sight Day.