Indigenous Eye Health On Track and Online

By Sharon Smith
Wednesday, 01 July, 2015

In a report published by the Medical Journal of Australia, support for Indigenous eye care is improving according to 42 recommendations made in a roadmap aiming to close the gap in health services. University of Melbourne researchers Dr Marian Abouzeid, Mitchell Anjou and Professor Hugh Taylor said that progress has been made to increase services, improve efficiencies and support better Indigenous patient engagement with the eye care system.
Key objectives of the roadmap include:

  • The increase of accessibility and uptake of eye care services by Indigenous Australians

  • Improvement of coordination between eye care providers, primary care and hospital services

  • Improvement of awareness of eye health among patients and clinicians; and

  • Ensuring culturally appropriate health services.

“Demonstrable gains are being made and there is growing momentum around the roadmap initiatives, but much remains to be done, and increased government support is required”, the authors said.
The authors stated that up to 94% of vision loss in Indigenous adults is avoidable or amenable to treatment.
“Vision loss accounts for 11% of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, so it follows that fixing the eye care system to address avoidable vision loss will help to close the broader health and social gaps and will have flow-on effects well beyond eye health,” Professor Taylor said.
More engagement was needed from the public health and medical communities to drive progress.
The CSIRO have been able to connect remote Indigenous communities with health clinics for eye checks through its new Remote-I technology, powered by satellite broadband. Over 1000 patients from the Torres Strait Islands and southern Western Australia had high-resolution images of their retinas transmitted to specialists in metropolitan areas, and their results sent back to community clinic health workers.
The screening program identified 68 patients who were at high risk of going blind, including those with macula odema.
"Diabetic retinopathy often causes irreversible blindness, and it affects the Indigenous population at nearly four times the rate of the non-Indigenous population," trial leader Professor Yogi Kanagasingam from the CSIRO said.
"In almost all cases this can be avoided by having regular eye checks, however those in remote communities simply don't have access to these services.
"If we can pick up early changes and provide the appropriate intervention, we can actually prevent blindness."
The technology is now looking to be expanded after receving further funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council to explore other aspects of diabetic retinal pathology. CSIRO has licensed Remote-I to a Silicon Valley spin-off TeleMedC, which plan to take the technology to the US and world market as part of its 'EyeScan' diagnostic solution.
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