Reducing surgery wait times in the Top End

The Foundation and partners have restored sight to 36 people from remote Indigenous communities and screened a further 65 at three eye intensives held this year.

  • Eye intensives are cutting hospital wait times for people in remote Indigenous communities
  • Telemedicine is speeding up diagnoses
  • Over 100 people have benefitted this year – with more operations to come.

Thirty-six people have received sight-restoring cataract operations during two surgical eye intensives at Royal Darwin Hospital this year. The intensives, part of The Foundation’s Remote Service Delivery Cataract Surgery Pilot, are helping reduce elective surgery waiting times in remote communities.

Blinding cataracts are 12 times more common in Aboriginal Australian adults yet it takes almost twice as long for these cataract patients to receive treatment compared to the mainstream population, said Jaki Adams-Barton, The Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program Manager.

Otto Dan is one of many patients who has undergone successful cataract surgery. “This is largely because of the lack of specialist services available to remote communities, long waiting times and fear of surgery,” she said.

Otto Dan from Gunbalanya, an Aboriginal community in Western Arnhem Land, was one of the people who underwent sight-restoring surgery. He was diagnosed with cataract when The Foundation’s Outreach Optometry Program visited his community last year. The surgery was life changing.

“I’m happy now... I can see all my grandchildren and great grandchildren,” he said.

It is expected that at least 100 more people will receive cataract operations through these intensives in 2013, held in collaboration with the Australian Government and Northern Territory Government’s Top End Hospital Network.

Down in Katherine, 300 kilometres away, more than 65 people had their eyes examined by a specialist during an eye intensive at Katherine District Hospital recently.

Nicole Lim, who coordinates The Foundation’s Katherine Regional Integrated Eye Health Program, said limited access to ophthalmology services “is one of the major barriers” to improving eye health for people in the Katherine region and without this type of intervention “patients can wait months to see a visiting eye specialist”. The intensive was delivered in partnership with Indigenous eye health partners Sunrise Health Services, Katherine West Health Board and Wurli Wurlinjang Health Service.

And once people have been screened at Katherine District Hospital, they are now able to receive a faster diagnosis using telemedicine, thanks to a new video slit camera donated by The Foundation.

Using the video slit lamp, primary health care providers at the hospital can photograph patients’ eyes and then link up immediately with hospitals to share the images and get fast diagnoses. There is potential to stream live video to ophthalmologists for immediate assessment and care advice, “making a significant difference to the service,” said Ms Adams-Barton.

Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is also in progress using emerging tele-retinal imaging technology. Last year, Aboriginal-controlled Community Health Organisations in Katherine, East Arnhem Land and Alice Springs joined in the collaboration.

“We are reducing waiting lists, restoring sight, improving quality of life and patient pathways through the hospital system,” she said.

“And we are continuing Fred’s legacy to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

> Find out more about The Foundation's work in Indigenous Australia.

NAIDOC Week 2013: This week is an important time to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s theme celebrates the Yirrkala Bark Petitions of 1963, when Yolngu people of Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land sent two bark petitions – framed with traditional ochre paintings– to the Australian House of Representatives to protest against mining on their land. This was a groundbreaking catalyst for change in Indigenous rights, leading to the 1967 referendum. If Fred were here today he would be urging us to learn about our shared history and keep working for a world where Indigenous Australians enjoy equal health, life expectancy and rights to non-Indigenous Australians.

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