The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health sector entered 2020 with high hopes. The equity gap was still evident in measures of access to services and outcomes, but we noted a continued positive trajectory towards the gap for vision being closed, with a strong sector driving change through collaborations on regional and state levels. 2020 was a target year for the elimination of trachoma, as well as to achieve equity and close the gap for vision.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the work of the sector in a number of ways. Many communities closed or reduced non-urgent visiting services, suspensions to elective surgery and reductions in permitted surgical loads and lockdowns in different parts of Australia to stop outbreaks, while necessary, meant that the already-existing waitlists for eye care became longer. The stronger impact on public hospitals, for example through lower caps on elective surgeries compared with private, has a disproportionate impact on population groups with the stronger reliance on the public system.
The impact on the sector’s work also includes the interruption to the positive momentum of change. Across Australia, regional and State-level groups of stakeholders involved with the provision of eye care services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have been driving improvements in pathways and outcomes. The community-controlled sector has been key in leading this change. This incremental progress in eye health outcomes are monitored and documented in an annual report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
2021 now brings with fresh opportunities to renew the success in eye health and beyond. While we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, we can be proud of the great success by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector to prevent widespread transmission of the virus through communities and look forward to the upcoming rollout of vaccines.
The task for the eye health sector, and for all those who work along the eye care pathway – including primary care and General Practitioners – is to keep the momentum going.