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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin Alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre Yarning Places

Gap in Indigenous blindness rates halved in nine years, expert says

Date posted: 20 March 2017

Leading ophthalmologist says progress on trachoma shows how cheap measures can have a dramatic effect on health.

The gap in rates of blindness between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has halved since 2008, a world-leading ophthalmologist, Professor Hugh Taylor, told a Closing the Gap conference in Melbourne, Victoria, last Thursday.

In 2006 rates of blindness were six times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. By 2016 this had dropped across Australia to being three times higher. Professor Taylor said it was an example of how cheap and basic public health measures, such as providing clean water and hygiene, can have a dramatic effect on health.

'That’s still a terribly high gap but we have made a lot of progress,' said Professor Taylor, from the University of Melbourne’s Indigenous eye health group.

'We think that there has been a significant increase in commonwealth recognition of this problem but we think there is $10m more a year more needed to completely close the vision gap by our target of 2020,' he said.

Australia is the only developed country where trachoma is still prevalent and this burden of disease is suffered exclusively in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The disease was eliminated from mainstream Australia through improved sanitation about 150 years ago. Ten low or middle-income countries have managed to completely eradicate trachoma before Australia. 

The painful disease is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis and, left untreated, it causes blindness. An infectious disease, it spreads easily, especially between children. Other key causes of blindness and eye disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are cataracts, diabetes and eye conditions that have not been corrected with glasses.

Simply spreading the message of face and hand washing, and ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had access to clean bathrooms, had gone a long way towards preventing the disease, Taylor said.

He is now pushing the commonwealth government to provide funding so his team can collect more data and identify where rates of eye disease are high and interventions such as antibiotics, improved living conditions and sanitation are needed. This data would be essential to closing the gap in eye health by 2020, he said.

Source: The Guardian


Last updated: 21 March 2017
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