Closing the gap on vision problems can be done ‘overnight’: report

The current federal government spending of about $40 million a year on improving Indigenous eye health is inadequate, according to a new report commissioned by the University of Melbourne.

杭州桑拿

Issued on Tuesday, the report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that the current levels of funding “cannot achieve the outcomes necessary to close the gap in the standard of eye health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians”.

Titled “The value of Indigenous sight”, the report said that about 94 per cent of vision loss experienced by Indigenous people is preventable or treatable, but about 30 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait had never had their eyes examined.

It went on to say that with the right care and government investment, the sight of over 30,000 Indigenous Australians could be saved.

“In Australia, we can’t afford to have such a huge gap that we can close essentially overnight.”

Some of the main conditions causing vision loss include refractive error, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and trachoma – all of which are largly treatable, according to the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

The organisation’s statewide eye health project officer Susan Forrester further stated that the impact of eye health was devastating.

“You can’t drive a car, you have trouble seeing, trouble looking after your kids,” she said.

“It can affect your opportunities for employment, education, and everything that has to do with your lifestyle.

“So if we’re looking at a whole of life concept and the Aboriginal holistic view of health, then eye health is embedded in that view.”

Ms Forrester said progress is promising in the state and successes can be repeated across Australia.

“There are significant costs in having people sitting around needlessly or pointlessly blind but there’s also the moral imperative”.

“One of the things that we talk a lot about in Aboriginal community control of health is that we can’t separate body parts, we can’t separate health issues,” she said.

“Health issues all come together – therefore eyes are really important, particularly if you want to be able to live with your family, see properly, not fall over, educate yourself and do all the things that happen in your lifestyle.

“So it’s one of those things that needs to keep being embedded in the overall idea of health.”

Hugh Taylor, an eye health expert at the University of Melbourne, said many Indigenous people don’t need to be blind.

“There are significant costs in having people sitting around needlessly or pointlessly blind but there’s also the moral imperative,” Professor Taylor said.

“In Australia, we can’t afford to have such a huge gap that we can close essentially overnight.”

To close the gap, the report recommended the federal government invest an additional $227 million over the next years. Combined with current funding of $308 million, it would bring the total amount of funding required to $534 million.

“The total value of the combined economic and health benefits that have been quantified in monetary terms is $856 million accrued over a 10 year period, from 2015 to 2024,” it stated.

“This total benefit result, compared to the total cost estimated to close the gap for Indigenous eye health, shows a benefit cost ratio of 1.6; that is, for every $1 of investment in the roadmap, there is an estimated return of $1.60.”