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Health conditions

Eye health

Vision loss is a serious disability that has effects across all dimensions of life. Vision loss encompasses both vision impairment and blindness. It is often preceded by a decline in normal sight. It may contribute to reduced quality of life by limiting opportunities for physical mobility, work, education and social engagement. Those with vision loss may also be more dependent on services and other people. Eye diseases and vision problems are the most common long-term health conditions reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (AIHW 2021b).

In 2016, based on data from the National Eye Health Survey (weighted to address sampling limitations), for Indigenous Australians aged 40 and over: 

  • 11% suffered vision loss (AIHW 2021b).
  • Vision loss increased with age—7% among those aged 40–49 and 18% among those aged 60–69 had vision loss (Figure HC 20a).
  • The most common causes of vision loss were refractive error (61%), cataract (20%) and diabetic retinopathy (5%) (Figure HC 20b).
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In 2018–19, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS) showed that among Indigenous Australians:

  • 38% self-reported having eye or sight problems (307,300 people).
  • The proportion who reported having sight problems increased with age—from 10% among children aged 0–14 to 93% among those aged 55 and over (Figure HC 21).
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Additionally, in 2018–19, among Indigenous Australians:

  • The most common causes of sight problems self-reported were long‑sightedness (22%) and short-sightedness (16%).
  • 1% suffered from cataracts (Figure HC 22).
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Trachoma is an infectious disease of the eye, which can result in scarring, in-turned eyelashes (trichiasis) and blindness, if left untreated. It is a preventable condition.

Recommendations for trachoma control

The World Health Organization recommends following the ‘SAFE’ strategy to control trachoma. This approach recommends:

  • surgery—to prevent trichiasis–related blindness
  • antibiotics—to clear infection
  • facial cleanliness—to promote clean faces and reduce spread
  • environment—measures to improve access to water, good sanitation, waste and fly control, and reduced overcrowding.

Between 2009 and 2019 the estimated prevalence of trachoma among Indigenous children aged 5–9 in at-risk communities fell from 15% to 4.5%.

The proportion of Indigenous adults aged 40 and over in at-risk communities with trichiasis fell from 2.1% in 2012 to 0.1% in 2019 (Figure HC 23).

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