Ophthalmologic care in indigenous communities
1 May 2017 | Minutes to read: 2

Ophthalmologic care in indigenous communities

By William Buck

On Sunday, 26 March 2017, William Buck and Hadassah Australia hosted a joint dinner which featured a panel of leading Ophthalmology specialists, each who have a unique story about their leading work in Indigenous eye health in Australia and overseas.

Professor Jacob Pe’er, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center was the key note speaker for the night and shared his experiences of promoting ophthalmologic care in developing countries.

An interactive panel discussion was also held with Professor Hugh Taylor, Laureate Professor in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne and Associate Professor Geoffrey Painter, Founding Ophthalmologist, Gordon Eye Surgery.

Between them, Professors Taylor, Painter and Pe’er have decades of experience working with indigenous populations both in developing countries and here in Australia. In a frank and honest discussion the panelists laid bare the realities of working in these communities including issues such as:

  • Treating acute health conditions with limited infrastructure and an under-resourced (or non-existent) public health system.
  • Short-term funding models that can inhibit the ability to implement sustainable eye health programmes
  • Establishing relationships in areas of political instability and conflict
  • Cultural issues which can often delay or prevent the scheduling of routine eye treatments
  • The latest research into the prevalence of eye conditions such as trachoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy in certain populations, and steps being taken for cure and prevention.

In 2008, Professor Hugh Taylor and his team conducted a survey to develop a long term and sustainable approach to indigenous eye health. They identified 42 recommendations to improve Indigenous eye health over nine domains of specific activity.

In 2012 this was turned into The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision report which documents the findings from an extensive consultation process to develop feasible, costed and supported policy recommendations to close the gap for vision by 2020.

The Roadmap also outlines a whole-of-system framework to address Indigenous eye health equity. It is presented as a comprehensive package of policy reforms with the goal to ‘Close the Gap for Vision’ by eliminating the known differences in the standard of eye health for Indigenous compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

To date, eleven of those recommendations have been fully implemented while others are in progress. Professor Hugh Taylor stressed that a considered and coordinated approach was key to the development of regionalised services and provide an ongoing and sustainable solution.

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