Context: An astounding 50% of blindness and 70% of vision impairment in Australia is caused by conditions that are said to be preventable or treatable. Aboriginal people suffer 10 times the rate of blindness and attend eyecare practitioners in far lower numbers than other members of the Australian population.
Issue: In order to combat this problem in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE), with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council (AHMRC) and the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH), and local Aboriginal communities, have set up eyecare clinics in Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) around the State. These eye clinics provide eyecare and vision correction, including the provision of spectacles and other optical aids, as well as educational programs to increase health awareness among the Aboriginal population and Aboriginal eye health workers. The first eyecare clinic was opened in AMS Redfern (Sydney) in July 2000 and ICEE now has a presence in over 60 locations throughout NSW. There have already been over 8000 consultations and 6000 pairs of spectacles provided to Aboriginal communities during this time. The program has also demonstrated that an effective Aboriginal eyecare program can be self-sustainable.
Lessons: The key to the success of this program has been collaboration and cooperation. This has involved working through, and with, Aboriginal community-controlled health services, which has ensured that programs are developed in accordance with community needs and cultural sensitivities. It has also involved the harnessing of the contributions of a number of State, Federal, community and professional organisations and individuals. This has provided efficiencies in service and resource provision, which are essential to the sustainability of the program.