Vision loss has a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to perform everyday activities, for example, by limiting opportunities for physical mobility, work, education and social engagement (Razavi et al. 2018). Eye diseases and vision problems are the most common long-term health conditions reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, with over one-third of Indigenous Australians self-reporting eye or sight problems (ABS 2018-19).
This report presents data for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for a range of eye health measures across prevalence, diagnosis and screening, treatment services and workforce and outreach programs. Data are presented over time, by age and sex, by state and territory, remoteness areas and lower level geographies.
- Trachoma is a highly infectious disease of the eye which—if left untreated—can result in scarring, in-turned eyelashes (trichiasis) and blindness. The overall prevalence of active trachoma among children aged 5–9 in at-risk communities fell from 15% in 2009 to 4.8% in 2012 and has since plateaued at around this level (4.5% in 2019).
Diagnosis and screening
- Between 2010–11 and 2019–20, the proportion of Indigenous Australians who had an eye health check as part of a health assessment increased from 11% to 28% (based on age-standardised rates).
- In 2019–20, 12% of Indigenous Australians (around 104,300) had an eye examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
- Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes which can result in vision loss if not detected and treated early. Among Indigenous Australians who had a diabetes test, the age-standardised proportion who were screened for diabetic retinopathy rose from an estimated 30% in 2008–09 to 34% in 2019–20.
- In 2018–19, the age-standardised cataract surgery rate for Indigenous Australians was about 8,519 hospitalisations per 1,000,000 population—an increase of 43% since 2011–12.
- In 2019, the overall treatment coverage of active trachoma cases in at-risk communities was 89%—that is, 4,419 community members identified as having trachoma received treatment. This included children with active trachoma, along with their household contacts and other community members.
- In 2019–20, 15,436 spectacles were dispensed to Indigenous Australians under state spectacle schemes by New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania (the states and territories able to provide data). Of these, Victoria (2,490 spectacles, 41 per 1,000 population) came closest to meeting the estimated number of spectacles needed (3,923)—63% of the population-based need met.
Workforce and outreach
- The number of occasions of service provided under the Visiting Optometrists Scheme—which provides specialist eye health services to Indigenous Australians in mainly regional and remote areas—have fluctuated, but overall services more than tripled between 2010–11 (around 8, 300 occasions of service) and 2018–19 (around 25,850) before declining in 2019–20 (around 22,089).
Comparison with non-Indigenous Australians
- Between 2009–10 to 2018–19, the total age-standardised proportion of Indigenous Australians tested for diabetes who had an eye examination increased from 29% to 36% before decreasing to 34% in 2019–20, while for non-Indigenous Australians it rose from 35% to 44% before declining to 42%.
- In 2018–19, age-standardised hospitalisation rates for Indigenous Australians for cataract surgery (8,519 per 1,000,000) were lower than for non-Indigenous Australians (9,102 per 1,000,000).