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Indigenous Eye Health

Indigenous Australians are reported to be at even higher risk of vision loss than the general population, and early detection and treatment is even more essential.
The primary vision-threatening conditions in Indigenous people are: untreated or under-corrected refractive error, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and maybe trachoma. Diabetic retinopathy is the primary vision-threatening condition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with cataract surgery being the main type of eye surgery needed.
The Australian Indigenous Health Infonet has been used as a source for some of the information provided on these pages, for further details please visit: http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au

What is refractive error?

Refractive error is when a person needs to wear glasses or contact lenses to see clearly. This might be because of:

• Long sightedness – when you can focus on objects in the distance, but not close up.
• Short sightedness – when you can focus on objects close up, but not in the distance.
• Blurred vision because your eyes are focusing differently. This is called astigmatism.
• Loss of eye sight due to age. This is called presbyopia.

Most refractive error problems can be fixed by wearing the correct glasses.
However, it is reported that many Indigenous Australians from remote communities do not seek glasses when they need them.

A FREE eye test can be arranged through your local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (otherwise known as Aboriginal Medical Service) or by your local GP or optometrist.

For your nearest eye health clinic in Queensland, visit the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council for details: http://www.qaihc.com.au

What is a cataract?

A cataract is caused by clouding of the lens of the eye, which can make eye sight appear blurry. Unfortunately cataracts appear as we get older, and they can appear in one or both eyes. They can be detected with an eye test.

For a FREE eye test contact your local Aboriginal &Islander Community Controlled Health Service or your local GP or optometrist.

If a person has cataracts and their eye sight becomes poor, a cataract operation can improve vision. A new artificial lens can be put into the eye to replace the old cloudy lens.

Some reports suggest that Indigenous Australians who have cataracts do not seek treatment early enough. This is a problem, because experts think that the surgery is more successful if the lens is replaced early.

Eye injury, smoking, heavy drinking, too much sun exposure and diabetes can increase the risk of getting cataracts.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

People with diabetes can get eye problems if their blood sugar (blood glucose) levels are not controlled. And diabetes affects many Indigenous Australians.

It is recommended that people who have diabetes have their eyes tested when they are diagnosed, and they need to have repeat eye tests every two years.

For a FREE eye test contact your local Aboriginal &Islander Community Controlled Health Service or your local GP or optometrist.

People with diabetes often do not know that they have diabetic retinopathy and this is why it is important to have regular eye tests. If diabetic retinopathy is not treated early you can become blind.

Diabetic retinopathy is often detected with a retinal camera, and the disease is treated with laser surgery. This works by stopping blood vessels from growing across and leaking in the back of the eye.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help to prevent or control diabetes.

For more information on diabetes and eye disease visit:www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/chronic-conditions/diabetes/reviews/our-review

What is Trachoma?

Trachoma is reported to be present in certain areas of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. It is caused by a bacterial infection, called Chlamydia trachomatis, often associated with families living together in overcrowded housing with poor sanitation. It is quickly spread through families. The infection causes a form of conjunctivitis, leading to scarring of the eye lids and eyes, which in extreme cases can lead to in-turning of the eyelids, clouding of the cornea and blindness. The antibiotic Azithromycin forms part of the treatment approach for trachoma, it is available free of charge through the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS).

For more information on general eye health and eye conditions, visit the Australian Indigenous health Infonet website:
http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/other-health-conditions/eye/plain-language/our-review
or
http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/other-health-conditions/eye/plain-language/background-information

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Organisations

The main organisations associated with Indigenous Health in Queensland are:

The National Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), the national peak Aboriginal health body representing Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services across the country. 
http://www.naccho.org.au
The Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Council, the state’s peak body representing and supporting Queensland’s community controlled health services sector.
http://www.qaihc.com.au
The Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH), part of the Federal Government’s Department of Health and Ageing. OATSIH is working to improve access to comprehensive primary healthcare services.
http://www.health.gov.au/oatsih
The Australian Indigenous Health Infonet – aims to provide readily accessible knowledge about Indigenous eye health.
http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au 

Government Initiatives/Eye Health Programs

In April 2009, the Federal Government committed $58.3 million over four years to tackle chronic eye and ear disease for Indigenous Australians.
For more information visit: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/budget/publishing.nsf/Content/budget2009-hmedia10.htm  
http://www.vision2020australia.org.au/media-centre-media-releases.cfm?id=2986&t=/australian-gov-commits-to-indigenous-eye-health/ 

In addition, the federally funded National Eye Health Campaign recently launched in May 2009, includes information for Indigenous Australians: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/eyehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/campaign-material-lp

A number of other federally funded eye health programs and projects are currently underway to improve eye health services for Indigenous Australians.

The Centre for Eye Research Australia completed data collection for the National Indigenous Eye Health Survey in December 2008. Analyses on the causes and prevalence of vision loss in Indigenous Australians, and on the prevalence of Trachoma in Indigenous Australians have been completed. TProfessor Hugh Taylor and his team, from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and the University of Melbourne, have now launched the much anticipated report on the National Indigenous Eye Health Survey (NIEHS).

The NIEHS was undertaken to define:
the extent of vision loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
the causes of vision loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
the impact of vision loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

A summary of key findings and the report are now available on the CERA website at: http://cera.unimelb.edu.au http://cera.unimelb.edu.au/publications/NIEHS%20summary%20report%2028%209%2009.pdf

 
In 2006 the Australian Government awarded a tender to the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) to establish the National Trachoma Surveillance and Reporting Unit (NTSRU).  The NTSRU has been responsible for providing high quality national information on trachoma prevalence and antibiotic resistance between 2006 and 2009 based on data received from the Northern Territory (NT), South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA) where trachoma was identified by states and territory as present.  The Trachoma Surveillance Reports and summaries published in the Communicable Diseases Intelligence journal are available as public documents on the Department of Health and Ageing website at: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-oatsih-pubs-trachreport

In May 2009 the prime minister announced the investment of $58.3 million over four years to improve access to eye and ear health care across Australia, particularly in remote and rural areas.  As part of this strategy the NTSRU has been extended for another year with an intention to extend the surveillance and monitoring of trachoma in the future.

The Vision 2020 Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Service Mapping Project details service providers across Australia. This information is available to Vision 2020 Australia members through the member portal.

The Queensland Government also funded the Queensland Vision Initiative Inc (QVI) to perform a one year study to evaluate Indigenous Eye Health Services in Queensland, and to develop a Strategy and Implementation Plan for the prevention of vision loss and provision of eye care for Indigenous Queenslanders.

The Vision 2020 Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Care Fact Sheet provides an overview of Indigenous eye health and strategies to address eye health service delivery across Australia. 
http://www.vision2020australia.org.au/resources.cfm?&page=2

Eye Health training

 

Nurse

The think nursing website has information and a booklet about following a career in nursing:
http://www.thinknursing.com/nursing-midwifery/indigenous-nursing 
A list of nursing courses throughout the state can be found under Education and Training in the menu.
http://www.thinknursing.com/education-training 
The Queensland Nursing Council (QNC) also offers Sally Goold Book Bursaries to assist Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nursing students in undertaking their first nursing qualification. More information about the QNC Sally Goold Book Bursaries can be found at:
http://www.qnc.qld.gov.au/home/content.aspx?content=Grants,_Scholarships_&_Bursaries/Grants,_Scholarships_&_Bursaries 

Regional eye health coordinator

There are currently no courses for regional eye health coordinators.

Training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers

Indigenous health worker training is provided at:
Brisbane at The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Corporation for Health Education and Training (ATSICHET). ATSICHET provides Certificate III and Certificate IV training courses. Certificate IV training includes an optional eye health module (HLTAHW417A). Visit www.atsichet.org

Indigenous Eye Health Resources

The International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE) has developed an eye health education resource kit, called ‘I See for Culture’, for use with indigenous adults in rural and remote communities across Australia.

The kits contain two flipcharts: ‘All about Eyes’ and ‘Trachoma, Cataract, Diabetes and your Eyes’, posters, an eye model, simulator masks and an information booklet.

For more information visit:
http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/other-health-conditions/eye/resources/health-promotion-resources
http://www.icee.org/resources/I_see_for_culture/index.asp 
 

 

Outreach services

Many optometrists and ophthalmologists in Queensland provide outreach services to remote areas of Queensland and these are available to all residents in these more isolated communities. These services are supported by the Commonwealth Government through:
• The Visiting Optometrists Scheme http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ruralhealth-vos
• The Medical Specialists Outreach Assistance Program http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ruralhealth-services-msoap; and
• The Queensland Government.
Many Indigenous Queenslanders use these services, which provide much needed eye checks, spectacles, cataract operations, or laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy.

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