Eye health in sight

The OneSight Foundation and global eyewear company Luxottica in partnership with the Gidgee Healing Centre is addressing eye health in Indigenous communities, offering free eye screenings, eyewear and eye education in Mt Isa recently.

The Mt Isa clinics are part of a new program called OneVision. Twenty seven volunteers, including eight optometrists were involved in the clinics, run in conjunction with the Gidgee Healing Centre. From 26 March OneVision will provide full optometry services to the adult Indigenous community in Mt Isa.

Julie Urquhart is the Director of Community and Stakeholder Relations at Luxottica and heads up the OneSight Foundation.

“The clinics are a major initiative of the OneSight Foundation aimed at improving Indigenous eye health, through education and improving access to eye health,” Julie says.

“Mt Isa is the first location OneVision has gone into, but we are primarily focussed on building a sustainable, long-term program. Mt Isa came up as an area that is not receiving the level of optometry services it should. There is a lack of access to optometrists and significant factors contributing to poor eye health.

“At the OneSight Foundation we had a real commitment that we could work together with the local community to get the access problems sorted out.”

OneSight also had in mind the statistics which show the importance of tackling eye health in Indigenous communities.

“Diabetes is a significant issue in the Indigenous population and there are real issues with hypertension in the retinal vessels. The statistics on vision loss are extraordinary in that 94% of it is preventable. While the statistics are alarming, the flip side is we can actually do something about it,” Julie says.

“Statistics show that Indigenous children start out with better eyesight but by the time they are 40 years old, they are six times more likely to be blind than non-Indigenous children and three times more likely to have significant vision loss. The earlier we start access to services the better because the statistics show that Indigenous children are starting ahead of the curve, but there is a downhill slide.”

The OneVision eye clinics were conducted in Mt Isa schools, as well as at the Gidgee Healing Centre. By reaching school-aged children, the clinic was able to promote the importance of taking care of eyes from a young age, and also allowed access to families and the community.

“We began to see results straight away at the eye clinics. For one child, it was the first eye test the child had ever had even when 80% of her family were blind. That could have been her future but we reassured her that nothing was inevitable about that fate.”

One in three Indigenous adults have never had an eye examination which are critical to good eye health, as are other factors like nutrition and protecting the eyes from sun and dust.

“Trachoma – an infectious eye disease caused by infection with the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis – is a significant issue in Indigenous communities and at the clinics we talk about the importance of cleaning and wiping eyes in the context of broader health and wellbeing.”

The Mt Isa clinics saw 300 Indigenous children on their first day who underwent eye screening and, for 40 of the children, a full eye examination.

“From those eye examinations, we dispensed 15 pairs of glasses. We also used technology in the clinics that are available in our stores for customers. This meant Mt Isa patients could see their own retinas. Every Australian has the right to world class equipment and eyewear,” Julie says.

The OneVision program will focus on Mt Isa and surrounds in the near future with ongoing service provision to Mt Isa, and also to Mornington Island, Cloncurry and Doomadgee.

The volunteers delivering the program come from across the Luxottica company.

“We actually have a waiting list of volunteers for the next eye clinic who are passionate about delivering eye health services to Mt Isa and surrounding regions,” Julie says.

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