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Kathryn Powley
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“Striving Together” to further close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous eye health is the theme of a major conference this week.

Indigenous Eye Health (IEH) at the University of Melbourne is hosting the two-day Close the Gap for Vision by 2020 National Conference, to be opened by Federal Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, on Thursday which is National Close the Gap Day.

IEH has assessed the need, barriers and enablers to eye health services delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This evidence, extensive community consultation and stakeholder engagement has guided the development of a comprehensive and feasible policy framework, the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision.

The Roadmap was launched in 2012 and is now active in 41 regions covering more than two thirds of Australia’s Indigenous population.

Roadmap successes include increased cataract surgery funding, optometry and ophthalmology visits, new Medicare listings supporting eye care screening, health promotion, regional and jurisdictional oversight and new diabetic retinopathy cameras and training.

Professor Marcia Langton, Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne,

said the conference was an opportunity to discuss and celebrate IEH’s ground-breaking approach.

“This purposeful collaboration of health service providers and integration of all the steps on the patient’s pathway has worked to reduce blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Professor Langton said.

National Conference chair Professor Hugh Taylor said when the work began rates of blindness and impaired vision were up to six times higher than for non-Indigenous populations.

“This rate now stands at three times more than the national rate,” Professor Taylor said. “This is a very encouraging improvement, but more needs to be done. With ongoing work from all stakeholders, we are determined to close the gap for Indigenous vision by 2020.”

Mr Hunt said it was tragic that blindness rates were so high in Indigenous adults.

“It is inspiring to see a wide range of organisations working toward this important common goal guided by the Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision,” he said. “This conference shows the progress that can be achieved when you work together.”

More than 150 participants representing a mix of community groups, clinics, health professions, state and federal governments, peak bodies, Aboriginal health organisations, NGOs and IEH Roadmap partners National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Optometry Australia, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) and Vision 2020 Australia will attend the conference at Melbourne’s Art Centre.