Abstract: Background: There are many barriers to Indigenous people seeking eye care. A lack of funded services within Indigenous and non-Indigenous controlled facilities has long been recognised as a major barrier. Other barriers include perceived cost, transport and access difficulties, lack of eye health awareness, and lack of eye care practitioners with knowledge of Indigenous culture. A Northern Territory Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS—Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation) invited a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) to help overcome these barriers in 2006. Services provided: Regional Eye Health Coordinators (REHCs) screen their communities for eye conditions, and coordinate and facilitate the eye health program in their region. They are a fulcrum around which effective services can be accessed by Indigenous people. The NGO has worked with the AMS and REHC to achieve the following: • training for REHC (both on the job and structured training courses) • increased community awareness of the need for eye health services • REHC coordination of optometric services with the community • optometrists providing comprehensive eye examinations • spectacle supply through a low cost scheme • established referral pathways to other health professionals. Results: Prior to this collaborative approach, anecdotal evidence from the REHC and regional ophthalmologist suggest that eye care was limited in the region serviced by this AMS. The same people report a large increase in services since the program started. In 2007–2008, 1385 patients were seen with 734 being prescribed spectacles and 146 referred to specialist care. Access to spectacles has been improved with a Low Cost Spectacle Scheme and arrangements with Centrepay which allow payment for prescribed spectacles via Centrelink deductions. This payment system has increased the number of custom made spectacles paid for from 51.5% to 82%. Challenges: Cultural reasons and adverse weather can necessitate last minute schedule changes, so flexibility is important. Such logistical problems mean it is essential to work closely with the REHC. Project success was gained not only from the prominent and pivotal role of the REHC, but also through continuity of optometrists. While continuity gained respect and admiration from community members and health centre staff, locum optometrists were required to expand the program. Systems and protocols have been developed to decrease dependence on individuals. Conclusion: Cooperation and collaboration between optometrists, AMSs and REHCs has been key to the success of the program, enabling it to overcome the existing barriers to eye care and improve access for people in need.
Tricia Keys, Maree O’Hara, 2009, Providing eye care to remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory: a case study examining success factors and challenges from a collaborative approach between a NGO and AMS, Conference Paper, viewed 05 December 2023, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=3071.