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HomeminewsEye Care Professionals Recruited in Juvenile Arthritis Program

Eye Care Professionals Recruited in Juvenile Arthritis Program

Eye health professionals are being targeted to help identify children with undiagnosed juvenile arthritis (JA), in a new first-of-its-kind program announced by the federal Government. 

Uveitis, a form of eye inflammation, can be a manifestation of many rheumatologic diseases, including juvenile arthritis. Uveitis can lead to permanent vision loss. 

Because of this, optometrists and other eye health professionals play a “critical role” as the “first point of contact for families and the main pathway to specialist referral and services”, according to the Australian Paediatric Rheumatology Group. 

This new program is an opportunity for the wider healthcare professional community to help recognise JA and prevent unnecessary suffering…

Announcing the nationwide program ‘Juvenile Arthritis: Early Diagnosis – Early Intervention Changing Children’s Lives’ in Canberra this week, federal Health Minister, the Hon Mark Butler said its aim was to shorten unacceptable delays in diagnosing JA, a painful, incurable and debilitating childhood autoimmune disease affecting up to 10,000 Australian families.1,2 

The program will deliver clear clinical guidance and information, provided by the Australian Paediatric Rheumatology Group, to health professionals to raise awareness of JA symptoms and diagnostic criteria. 

Dr Ben Whitehead, Chair of the Australian Paediatric Rheumatology Group, said, there is a “low awareness of JA amongst front line health professionals and within the general community”.  

“In addition, there is a common misconception that ‘kids don’t get arthritis’ and the first signs of painful or swollen joints can often be dismissed as growing pains.” 

Paediatric rheumatologist Dr Jeffrey Chaitow, Chair the Juvenile Arthritis Foundation Australia (JAFA) Medical and Scientific Panel, said, “the time to diagnosis for JA has remained unchanged for two decades”. 

This posed “significant risk to affected children by narrowing the window for early intervention and remission, sometimes resulting in life-long joint deformities and loss of vision from uveitis”.  

“Even a few months between symptom onset and timely treatment can have a significant impact on long-term health and disability outcomes.  

“This new program is an opportunity for the wider healthcare professional community to help recognise JA and prevent unnecessary suffering and negative effects on children’s quality of life, particularly while there is a critical shortage of paediatric rheumatology specialists in Australia.” 

JA is often thought to be a rare disease but is one of the most common chronic diseases affecting young Australians. It has a similar in prevalence to childhood diabetes and epilepsy.3,4  

Eye health professionals can register their interest in the program by emailing Mira Mihajlovic, JAFA, at [email protected]. 

References 

  1. Bond, D.M., Von Huben, A., Nassar, N., The IMPACT study: Investigating the mental, physical, social and financial costs (impact) of juvenile idiopathic arthritis and related childhood rheumatic diseases. Juvenile Arthritis Foundation of Australia, Sydney. November 2023. 
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2023. Chronic musculoskeletal conditions: Juvenile arthritis. AIHW. Available at: aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/juvenile-arthritis [accessed March 2024].
  3. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Facts and statistics about type 1 diabetes (web page). Available at: jdrf.org.au/living-with-t1d/facts-figures [Accessed March 2024]. 
  4. Epilepsy Foundation. Children and Epilepsy (web page). Available at: epilepsyfoundation.org.au/managing-epilepsy/children-and-epilepsy [accessed March 2024]