By Alexa Kaczka
Advances in medicine and technology mean that many vision conditions can effectively be eliminated in a matter of hours nowadays, one expert has pointed out.
Professor Hugh Taylor, Laureate Professor and Harold Mitchell Chair of Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne, explained that in developed countries there is now no need for anybody who has a treatable eye condition to go blind.
He is a fervent supporter of a new scheme which is aiming to substantially reduce the number of indigenous people in his country suffering preventable vision loss and said that nobody should be left to lose their vision when the condition they are suffering from can be treated.
Currently, it is estimated that 94 per cent of vision loss in indigenous Australians is unnecessary, preventable or treatable, and experts at the university are claiming that this figure could be impacted significantly with just AUS $70 million (£48 million) of investment.
It is not only the case in Australia, as many communities throughout Europe and North America have a far higher proportion of people suffering from preventable sight loss than other areas of their country, due to healthcare investment issues.
Professor Taylor was a lead author of the study, which also featured input from Andrea Boudville and Mitchell Anjou of the Indigenous Eye Health Unit and was launched by the Warren Snowdon, Federal Minister for Indigenous Health in Adelaide.
Entitled The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision, the report is considered the first ever comprehensive framework to close the gap on indigenous eye health and is the result of more than five years of extensive research and consultation between scientists, healthcare experts and health bodies.
“We now have the plan and if we have the will and government support we can solve this critical health issue. Unlike many other conditions, we have the solutions for the key eye care conditions and vision loss can effectively be eliminated overnight," Professor Taylor explained.
Although the problem is rife in parts of Australia, it is also the case in some areas of the UK, where certain communities have a far higher proportion of people suffering from sight problems than other regions.
Professor Tyalro said that what is needed in Australia and other parts of the world is additional resources to increase the availability of eyecare, as well as good co-ordination and case management of the patient journey.
He is now is calling for support from all governments, Federal and State and Territory to fund AUS $70 million over the next half a decade to implement the Roadmap.
“With a doubling of funding, we estimate, that demand for eye treatments such as cataract surgery will increase by seven times, diabetic examinations by five times," the expert explained.
He also noted that the use of contact lenses and glasses could almost triple in the same timeframe, if the initiative was properly implemented.
Among indigenous Australians, sight loss has the third most detrimental impact on health, rated above both stroke and alcoholism, though in the last 35 the Melbourne researchers claim only marginal improvements have been made in this area.
The new Roadmap includes several recommendations to eliminate unnecessary vision loss through strategies addressing primary eye care, refractive services, cataract, diabetic eye disease and trachoma.
It also stresses the need for assessment of population-based needs, strong co-ordination, monitoring of performance and national accountability, Professor Taylor explained.
"We have worked hard and consulted widely to ensure the recommendations are comprehensive and are well supported by the sector and Indigenous community.
"The Roadmap will facilitate system changes to improve access to eye care and reduce unnecessary vision loss."
by Adrian Galbreth