Improvements in eye health among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

More Indigenous Australians are accessing eye health services than ever before, according to a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The fourth annual report, Indigenous eye health measures 2020, was launched virtually today by the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health. The report shows Indigenous Australians 40 years and over had 3 times the rate of vision loss of non-Indigenous Australians, after adjusting for age and sex.

‘The Indigenous eye health measures were developed to monitor changes in Indigenous eye health, and their use of eye health services. Since the first report, published in 2017, there have been substantial improvements in the rate of Indigenous Australians accessing cataract surgery, diabetic retinopathy screening and eye health exams,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr. Fadwa Al-Yaman.

‘Between 2010–11 and 2018–19, the proportion of Indigenous Australians who had an eye health check as part of a health assessment increased from 11% to 30% (based on age-standardised rates).’

Similarly, the rate of Indigenous Australians screened for diabetic retinopathy—a complication of diabetes which can cause vision loss—increased from 31% to 37% between 2008–09 and 2018–19.

Alongside diabetic retinopathy, the report examines other causes of vision loss (vision impairment and blindness) among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘Most of the blindness and vision impairment experienced by Indigenous Australians is caused by preventable conditions or is responsive to treatment,’

‘Treatments for eye problems vary—for example, surgery can remove cataracts, while visual aids, such as glasses and contact lenses, can correct refractive error.’ Dr. Al-Yaman said.

The rate of cataract surgery has increased by 42% since 2008–10, from around 5,200 procedures to 7,400 per 1,000,000 in 2016–18.

The prevalence of trachoma—­a highly infectious eye disease that can cause blindness if left untreated—has fallen significantly among Indigenous children aged 5–9, from 15% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2019.

Dr. Al-Yaman noted that Indigenous Australians face many barriers in accessing eye health services including cultural, financial and locational barriers, alongside dealing with complexities of the eye health care system.

‘Ongoing monitoring will be important to better understand changes in the eye health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their access to and use of eye health services, and to identity gaps in service delivery,’ said Dr. Al-Yaman.

Media enquiries: Elise Guy, AIHW: Mob. 0468 525 418, [email protected]

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