One in nine Indigenous people aged over 40 years have vision impairment or are blind, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released on 26 April.

Older Indigenous Australians are three times likely to suffer from vision impairment or blindness as older non-Indigenous Australians.

  • In 2016, the estimated prevalence of bilateral vision impairment for Indigenous Australians over the age of 40 was 10.5% and the prevalence of bilateral blindness was 0.3%.
  • Thar was three times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians, based on age- standardised data.
  • The three leading causes of vision loss for Indigenous Australians aged 40 and over in 2016 were refractive error (63%), cataract (20%) and diabetic retinopathy (5.5%).
  • The report foundrachoma is found in some remote Indigenous communities of Australia.

The report said the prevalence of active trachoma among 5-9 year olds has decreased from 14% in 2009, but plateaued in recent years. In 2016 the prevalence rate was 4.7%.

It said that in in 2015-18, around 84,000 (12%) Indigenous Australians had had an eye examination in the preceding 12 months and that the age-standardised proportion of Indigenous Australians who had an eye examination remained fairly stable between 2014–15 and 2015–16, but the proportion for non-Indigenous Australians increased resulting in a widening of the gap from 5.2% to 6.2%.

37% of Indigenous people with diabetes had not had eye exam 

In 2015-16, it was estimated that over one third (37%) of Indigenous people with diabetes had not had an eye examination in the preceding 12 months, as recommended in the current guidelines.

The report said Indigenous hospitalisation rate for cataract surgery rose by 36% in the last 10 years.

Median waiting times for cataract surgery were longer for Indigenous Australians (152 days) than non-Indigenous Australians (93 days).

The three leading causes of vision loss for Indigenous Australians aged 40 and over in 2016 were refractive error (63%), cataract (20%) and diabetic retinopathy (5.5%).

7,400 Indigenous people hospitallsed for eye diseases in 2014

In 2014-16, around 7,400 Indigenous Australians were hospitalised for eye diseases and 1,700 for eye injuries.

Indigenous Australians had lower age- standardised rates of hospitalisation for eye diseases, than non-Indigenous Australians (11 and 14 per 1,000, respectively), but more than three times the rate for eye injuries (1.4 and 0.4 per 1,000, respectively).

In 2016-17 the number of spectacles dispensed to Indigenous Australians under state schemes was 2,076 in Victoria (38 per 1,000) and 5,936 in Queensland (28 per 1,000), while in New South Wales 5,506 Indigenous Australians received spectacles (24 per 1,000).

Cataract surgery rates have increased

Cataract surgery rates have increased for both Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians over the last 10 years.

Rates of cataract surgery for Indigenous Australians in 2014-16, however, were lower than for non-Indigenous Australians, despite having higher prevalence rates for the disease.

The median number of days waited for cataract surgery in 2014–16 was longer for Indigenous Australians (152 days) than for non-Indigenous Australians (93 days).

Nearly half (49%) of non-Indigenous Australians had cataract surgery within 90 days compared with 39% of Indigenous Australians.