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Date posted: 8 January 2013
Trachoma could be entirely eradicated from Australia within the next five years, according to Hugh Taylor, professor of Indigenous eye health at Melbourne University.
Taylor, who began working to eliminate trachoma in Australia 35 years ago alongside the late Fred Hollows, has produced a report which reviews current eye health service provision in Australia and develops a model of eye care that aims to ‘close the gap' in the standard of eye health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Taylor believes that with comprehensive screening, the promotion of face washing and super-antibiotics, new cases of trachoma could be wiped out over five years, (those who have the disease severely now would, of course, still develop complications later in life). ‘Closing the gap is a 25-year process, yet we estimate trachoma and [related] blindness can be virtually eliminated in five years. That would cost the community around $90 million,' Taylor says.
In the Northern Territory, Western Australia and to a lesser extent South Australia, strategies encouraging personal hygiene and targeting infected children with new-generation six or 12-monthly antibiotics are having a significant impact. Older patients are regularly operated on when eyelashes turn inwards because of infection, damaging corneas.
In communities around Ali Curung near Tennant Creek in the Barkly Tablelands, infection rates are falling for the first time in years. But that is not the full picture.
Despite the recent advances, the National Indigenous eye health survey that was conducted by the unit in 2009 estimated that nationwide there are 20,000 men, women and children at risk of trachoma. Some 5000 are children.
Taylor attributes the current slow progress in reducing the burden of the disease in Indigenous communities largely due to failings in accountability and national oversight from frequent changes in government and health ministers.
His plan, The roadmap to close the gap for vision, addresses the specific limitations and restrictions of current funding mechanisms, suggests improvements in prevention and treatment services, and outlines ways to overcome barriers to accessing eye health services by Indigenous Australians.
Trachoma is an infectious eye disease that can lead to blindness if left untreated. The disease which is preventable is a significant public health issue in Australian Indigenous communities. Australia is the only developed country among 57 with ‘endemic blinding trachoma', a disease eradicated from most countries 100 years ago.
Source: The Age, WAtoday and the Indigenous Eye Health Unit
Health Promotion Officer (trachoma resources)
Indigenous Eye Health Unit
Melbourne School of Population Health
University of Melbourne
207 Bouverie St
Carlton Vic 3053
Ph: (03) 8344 9320
Fax: (03) 9348 1827
Ph: (03) 9035 8241