A new vision for improving indigenous eye health

13 July 2018

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A new partnership between two Mildura health services will ensure the local Aboriginal community has better access to eye care specialists and support.

Vision Australia began offering eye health checks through the Mildura Base Hospital Aboriginal Health Unit (AHU) in April.

An orthoptist is available once a month to see indigenous patients who have poor vision and eye conditions, prioritising those who are on dialysis.

Vision Australia service engagement consultant Sally Edwards said the organisation signed a memorandum of understanding with the hospital late last year after identifying a need to improve the way it engaged with and supported the Aboriginal community.

Ms Edwards said staff had participated in cultural awareness training and saw clients in an environment where they felt comfortable.

“This partnership has been more than a year in the making and shows what can be achieved if services are passionate and work together for the benefit of the community,” she said.

“The AHU has built connections with local indigenous people and services and can identify patients in the hospital system who need assistance with their vision but may not know about or be able to access Vision Australia services without support.

“Sometimes all a person needs to correct their vision is a new pair of glasses, and we can refer them to an optometrist.

“If they have ongoing issues that glasses can’t fix, we can help with equipment and strategies to make daily activities easier, like improved lighting, contrast strips and tactile markings in the home, magnification devices and adaptive technology.

“Staff at the AHU can also help clients get to the centre and arrange follow-up appointments if needed.”

AHU manager Steve Portelli said eye health was a serious issue for indigenous people.

“Diabetes is one of the biggest killers in the Aboriginal community, and people often end up with vision loss and other eye conditions,” Mr Portelli said.

“But Aboriginal people often won’t engage with services that can help because of the shame factor or because they don’t know where to go.

“We are breaking down those barriers through our partnership with Vision Australia, so people feel comfortable accessing the service.”

Mr Portelli said the AHU and attached healing centre, which opened about two years ago, was a neutral and safe environment for the Aboriginal community.

“It’s just off from the hospital and doesn’t have a clinical feel, so it’s a more relaxed and peaceful place for people to come,” he said.

“The community also comes to the centre to put up names of family members who have passed and sit there and reflect as part of the healing process.

“Now they can also feel safe to have their eyes checked, talk to Vision Australia about how the service can help, and access ongoing care and support.”