The federal government has allocated $2 million to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with easier access to affordable prescription glasses.

Health minister Mr Greg Hunt said the investment would allow Vision 2020 Australia to work with state and territory governments to streamline, standardise and improve their schemes that provide subsidised glasses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘Current arrangements can make it difficult to obtain affordable glasses’

“There are inconsistencies in current arrangements which can make it difficult for many of our these people to get affordable glasses,” Mr Hunt said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have three times the rate of vision impairment and blindness as compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

“That is totally unacceptable, especially when almost two-thirds of impaired eyesight can be corrected by prescription glasses.”

Indigenous health minister Mr Ken Wyatt said introducing a nationally-consistent system to simplify and ensure better access to affordable glasses would significantly improve people’s vision and overall quality of life.

‘Significant barrier to education and employment’

“Not only does poor vision adversely affect a person’s general wellbeing, it can be a significant barrier to education and employment, and can restrict a person’s mobility and social interaction,” Mr Wyatt said.

“The cost of prescription glasses often deters Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from visiting an optometrist to have their sight checked.

“That can also delay detection of other serious vision-threatening conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma.”

A trial to improve the provision of prescription glasses in the Kimberley and Pilbara areas of Western Australia yielded positive outcomes, including improved patient medication compliance and greater independence.

‘To help achieve equity of access to subsidised glasses’

“To help achieve equity of access to subsidised glasses, Vision 2020 will work with governments to ensure their schemes align with eye-health principles developed by Optometry Australia and the National Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation,” Mr Wyatt said.

“These principles have been supported by Aboriginal health forums conducted across the nation.”

Vision 2020 Australia was established in 2000 and has an experienced board including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

The federal government’s 2018-19 Budget included an additional $3 million to extend Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islandereye-health activities, on top of an existing $31.3 million commitment to eye health activities.