Closing the gap for Indigenous eye health

17/02/2022 | 3 mins

Indigenous children in remote areas of Australia often start life with better eye health and eyesight than non-indigenous children(1). However, this natural advantage is threatened by illnesses like trachoma and diabetic retinopathy which are prevalent in remote Indigenous communities.

These diseases mean Australian and Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to suffer vision loss with the rate of blindness three times higher in people over 40 year of age than for non-Indigenous Australians.

Western Australia has the highest prevalence, 6.4 per cent, of trachoma in children five to nine  years of age in at risk rural and regional communities - the average across WA, SA, and NT is 4.5 per cent(2).

Fortunately loss of sight due to diseases like trachoma and diabetic retinopathy is preventable with improved hygiene, health and treatment

The Lions Eye Institute – a not-for-profit centre of excellence combining world-class scientific research into the prevention of blindness with the highest level of eye care delivery – began working with remote Aboriginal populations in the 1970s and in 2010 established Lions Outback Vision under the guidance of the institute’s founder and director Professor Ian Constable.

Now lead by The University of Western Australia's Associate Professor Angus Turner, Lions Outback Vision works to reduce rates of preventable vision loss and improve eye health for Australian and Torres Strait Islanders living in remote and regional areas. 

Lions Outback Vision provides outreach ophthalmology services through regular clinics in Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Katanning, Albany, Kambalda, Norseman, Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Menzies, Leonora, Laverton, Wiluna, Meekatharra, Newman, Tom Price, Derby, Kununurra, Karratha, South Hedland, Port Hedland, Roebourne, Broome, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek.

This wide spanning service is possible thanks to collaborations with multiple funders and supporters including: UWA; Channel 7 Telethon Trust; Wen Giving Foundation; Hawaiian, McCusker Charitable Foundation; Kerry Stokes AC and Christine Simpson Stokes AM; Lotterywest; The Fred Hollows Foundation; Perth Eye Foundation, Rural Health West; WA Department of Health; the Australian Federal Government.

Last year, Telethon 7 funded the expansion of the Broome Lions Outback Vision clinic for state-of-the-art equipment to improve ophthalmology outreach services for children targeting trachoma, diabetic retinopathy and improved eye health.

The clinic will include a fully equipped paediatric ophthalmology service in Broome and UWA’s optometry students will undertake clinical placements there in the future.

“By providing these vital, regular services and ensuring ongoing eye health for Indigenous children in the Broome region, we will be improving rates of preventable vision loss amongst the future generations especially those in remote outer communities.”Associate Professor Angus Turner

Great progress has been made in improving eye care for Indigenous Australians but there is still a significant gap in the eye care received and eye health outcomes. UWA and Telethon 7 are proud to be partnering with Lions Eye Institute to address these issues. 

(1) Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2016 Report. Produced by the Productivity Commission for the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision.
(2) Australian Trachoma Surveillance Report 2019. Produced by Australian Government Department of Health. UNSW and the Kirby Institute. 




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