“We see the land
We see inside…”
So begins the poem “Always Was, Always Will Be” by Mickey Hetherington, written to reflect the spirit of 2020’s NAIDOC week theme. But the sad reality is that many Indigenous people do not see clearly– at least not with their eyes.
The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) has renewed its call for a boost in Indigenous eye healthcare services this NAIDOC week.
ASO President A/Prof Dr Ashish Agar says that while Indigenous eye health services have been much improved over recent years, there is still much work to be done.
“If we looked at Indigenous eye health services twenty years ago, we might have given the government a C-. We’ve worked our way up to a B in some areas… but we need to be aiming for an A or even A+ in everything,” A/Prof Agar said.
This echoes the findings of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, “Indigenous Eye Health Measures 2020”, released late last week. This report suggests that while there has been a 20% increase in the number of Indigenous Australians having their eyes checked in the last ten years, a 10% decrease in the prevalence of trachoma in children in at-risk communities over the same period and an increase in the rate of cataract surgery by 42% there is still much to be done. The percentage of needs met figures range is only 22% in East Arnhem and less than 50% in places such as Katherine, Central NT, Pilbara, Central QLD and the Cape.
“In Australia we have many great eye health care services devoted particularly to Indigenous eyes including the Outback Eye Service, Lion’s Outback Vision and IRIS (Indigenous and Remote Eye Health Service), which I also Co-chair. While the services all deliver great work, much more could be done if there was more funding made available,” A/Prof Dr Agar said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still three times more likely to suffer blindness than the general population. 90% of vision loss is preventable or treatable if detected early. Whilst Indigenous children have a lower rate of poor vision than non-Indigenous children Indigenous adults over the age of 40 have nearly three times the rate of vision loss of other Australians.
Some of the barriers to Indigenous Australians seeking assistance for their eye health are financial, cultural, social, geographic and cultural safety issues. Overcoming these barriers is essential to delivering effective eye health care programs. “We cannot move forward as a nation as long as our First Australians remain at greater risk of vision loss, simply by virtue of who they are” A/Prof Ashish Agar remarks.
The Australian Society of Ophthalmologists is Australia’s peak medico-political ophthalmic body, fighting for the rights of patients in both public and private health sectors. For further information visit www.asoeye.org.
A/Prof Dr Ashish Agar is available for interview
For further information, please contact Sally Symonds, Manager, Media & Communications ASO – 0417 727 625