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ANZEF Grant Round 2023 Recipient Project

Western Murrumbidgee LHD Indigenous Eye Care Project

Led by A/Prof Geoffrey Painter, Dr Dominic McCall and Mrs Kerrie Legg, Foresight Australia – AU$35,000

In the Western Murrumbidgee region of New South Wales, home to the Wiradjuri people, there is a significant Indigenous population, making up 5.8% of the Local Health District (LHD) compared to 3.4% in the State. Some local government areas (LGAs), like Lake Cargelligo LGA, have even higher Indigenous populations nearing 20%. However, the age distribution shows that only 5.6% of Indigenous people in the Murrumbidgee LHD are 65 or older, in contrast to 20% of non-Indigenous Australians. Chronic health issues are prevalent among Indigenous Australians, leading to a life expectancy ten years shorter on average. High rates of diabetes (13.7%) in the region also result in a significant incidence of diabetic retinopathy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, increasing the incidence of avoidable blindness in the Western Murrumbidgee LGAs. This worsened situation is compounded by existing socio-economic disadvantages and geographical barriers that hinder Indigenous Australians’ access to quality eye care.

GAMS Aboriginal Healthcare Workers training on the use of their retinal camera (Image courtesy of Foresight Australia)

The project’s purpose is to address these disparities by offering effective eye care screening and improved access to ophthalmic services for Indigenous Australians in the Western Murrumbidgee LHD. It places a particular emphasis on three prevalent causes of vision loss among Aboriginal people: refractive error, cataract, and diabetic retinopathy, as identified in the 2016 National Eye Health Survey.

This project builds upon Foresight Australia’s established eye screening program, initiated in 2022. It has already conducted successful ophthalmic up-skilling courses for the Griffith Aboriginal Medical Service (GAMS), training fifteen Aboriginal Health Workers in ophthalmic screening and equipping them with necessary diagnostic tools. GAMS now has a dedicated Aboriginal eye-care worker. To support the screening program, an Ophthalmology Department at Griffith Base Hospital (GBH) has been established. Since 2022, visiting clinical teams have been able to provide a sustainable high quality, comprehensive eye-care service to the people of Griffith and the Western Murrumbidgee LHD, at no cost to those in need. Three-day surgical and consulting visits from a team of doctors every four weeks have reduced the waiting list for cataract surgery from nearly 12 months to a matter of weeks.

A/Prof Geoffrey Painter and Kerrie Legg presenting books and equipment to GAMS CEO Stacey O’Hara and General Manager Lisa Penrith
(Image courtesy of Foresight Australia)

The ANZEF grant will be used over twelve months to expand the provision of ophthalmic training and equipment to Registered Nurses, GPs and Aboriginal Health Workers from GAMS yet to undertake the training (with refresher training for those who have previously trained), and to Aboriginal Health Workers from GBH. This project aims to make a significant positive impact on the eye health of Indigenous Australians in the Western Murrumbidgee LHD, addressing the challenges they face in accessing quality eye care and working towards a more equitable future.