Australian government programs help improve Indigenous eye health

The Australian Government today released the Review of the Implementation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Program as well as its response.

The review concluded that the program has delivered increased access to optometrists and ophthalmologists and that the provision of eye equipment helped improve the sight and health of Indigenous Australians, particularly in rural and remote areas.

The existing network of 34 regional eye health coordinators working in Indigenous primary health care services across Australia has been central to these improvements. The government has spent more than $14 million on the Eye Health Program between 1998-99 and 2002-03 and funding has been allocated to continue the program on an ongoing basis.

The review, undertaken by the Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs, has recommended integrating eye health into primary health care. It also suggested the mainstream health system could do more to respond to the eye health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Australian Government supports these recommendations. .

The government has recently announced an additional $40 million over four years to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s access to health services. The government will spend $281 million on Indigenous health in 2004-05. Funding for Indigenous health has more than doubled in real terms since 1996.

The most common eye problems for Indigenous Australians are refractive error (long and short sightedness), diabetic retinopathy and cataract. In some regions, trachoma remains a problem.

Indigenous Australians’ life expectancy is about 20 years less than the wider Australian community. Earlier this month the government announced a new Medicare funded adult health check for all Indigenous Australians. This health check is available for those aged between 15 and 54, every 2 years. The aim is to ensure early intervention and diagnosis for treatable conditions, in particular chronic diseases, to improve the overall health of Indigenous Australians.

Copies of the Review report and the Government’s response can be found on http://www.health.gov.au/oatsih/cont.htm.

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