The successes and achievements of the Implementation of the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision have been recognised in the 2021 Annual Update, launched online by Pat Anderson AO, Alyawarre woman and advocate for the health of Australia’s First Peoples, with welcome to country presented by Aunty Georgina Nicholson, an Elder of the Wurundjeri people.
The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision was first released in 2012 and is committed to achieving equity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal eye health outcomes. In launching the 2021 Update, Ms Anderson expressed pleasure in being able to report good progress despite challenging times.
We are really making good progress – we are very close to getting this job done
“This year, two thirds of the Roadmap recommendations are now fully implemented. This is great work and I commend everyone who has been working on the implementation of the Roadmap,” she said.
Paying his respects to the elders past, present and emerging, Professor Hugh Taylor provided a brief overview of some of the key findings in the 2021 Annual Update.
Impressively, 121 of 138 (88%) of the activities, and 27 of 42 (64%) of the recommendations, listed in the Roadmap have been fully completed. In relation to the government’s commitment and priority to end avoidable blindness by 2025 for Indigenous people, 133 of 138 (96%) of the activities have been completed and 38 of 42 (90%) of the recommendations have been implemented.
Further to this, data shows there has been a progressive increase in Indigenous leadership, which Prof Taylor says is key and increasing. The number of eye examinations provided to Indigenous Australians has also increased from 61,562 in 2013-2014 to 82,211 in 2019-2020, and cataract surgery numbers have risen from 3,397 in 2011-2013 to 6,072 in 2017-2019.
“We are really making good progress – we are very close to getting this job done,” said Prof Taylor.
However, despite the successes, more work is needed to meet the shortfalls, as Prof Taylor explains.
“We still know that there is a lot of inequity in the provision of cataract surgery. When we look at the waiting times for people in hospitals, year on year there’s still a huge gap between the average waiting time for Indigenous people waiting for cataract surgery compared to non-Indigenous people. This is an inequity that really does need to be addressed,” said Prof Taylor.
As well as this, examination rates for those with diabetes are still not high enough.
Despite all this great work that’s been going on, achieving the goal of eliminating avoidable vision loss and blindness by 2025 is going to require a whole lot more work
“We’ve been making progress with people with diabetes and increasing the percentage of people with diabetes getting their eyes examined, but it’s still less than 50%, and in some areas it’s down to 30%, who are getting an eye exam each year. Everybody with diabetes has a risk of blindness, and every Aboriginal person with diabetes needs to have an eye examination at least once a year. We need to really promote this to get good coverage.”
Prof Taylor also noted that trachoma rates have decreased, which marks good progress. Though a plateau suggests there is still work to be done in order to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem.
“We’ve really come a long way since the Roadmap was first introduced in 2012. But there is still more to do,” said Prof Taylor.
Ending Avoidable Blindness by 2025
In 2019, Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan included the commitment to ending avoidable blindness in Indigenous communities by 2025, which aligned with the plans set out in the Vision 2020 Australia document Strong Eyes, Strong Communities: A year plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and vision.
Acknowledging this goal, Prof Taylor said, “This should be a really good game changer, but we still need the funding and commitment of support to actually implement this and, most of all, we need to build on Indigenous ownership and leadership.”
Similarly, Ms Anderson said, “Despite all this great work that’s been going on, achieving the goal of eliminating avoidable vision loss and blindness by 2025 is going to require a whole lot more work.
“I encourage my sisters and brothers working in eye health to work together and support and encourage each other, and others, to be better aware and understand eye care. I think investing in workforce development and empowerment is critical,” said Ms Anderson.
The Annual Update on the Implementation of The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision is available here.