The University of Melbourne: A shared vision for the futureWe live in a lucky country, yet indigenous Australians continue to suffer serious eye health problem and blindness at 10 times the rate of the rest of the population. We are the only developed country to still have trachoma, a blinding, yet curable disease that disappeared from mainstream Australia more than 100 years ago.
Thanks to the support of generous donors, The University of Melbourne has launched a new program to tackle eye health issues in Australia's indigenous communities.
The Indigenous Eye Health Program is spearheaded by Professor Hugh Taylor AC, a world-leader in trachoma research who says the blinding eye disease can be eradicated with concerted effort.
The program provides an integrated and sustainable solution to improving indigenous eye health. An eminent ophthalmologist, Professor Taylor said: "The state of eye health in Indigenous Australia is a national shame, however with concerted effort trachoma can be eradicated and quality in eye health achieved."
To launch the program the university looked to the philanthropic community and business sector for support. The result has been a unique partnership developed in conjunction with local and federal government, the philanthropic community and the health sector.
Instrumental to the initial success of the program has been the Harold Mitchell Foundation that pledged $1 million over five years to support Professor Taylor's leadership position, the Harold Mitchell Chair in Indigenous Eye Health.
"The Harold Mitchell Foundation is committed to redressing the balance and stamping out trachoma and avoidable vision loss in our indigenous communities. This is a great example of the power of partnerships between philanthropy and academia," said founder and leading Australian media identity Harold Mitchell AO. "Together we can solve this problem and bring hope and sight to our indigenous people," said Mr Mitchell.
The Ian Potter Foundation has given $1 million over five years to help fund the program's research and evaluation. This includes a national survey and analysis of existing research relating to indigenous eye health and eye care services, with additional research funded by the RANZCO Eye Foundation, the Cybec Foundation and the Vision CRC.
Professor Taylor has dedicated much of his life to improving the state of indigenous eye health in Australia. In the 1970s he and Fred Hollows treated trachoma in Indigenous communities. Thirty years later, infection rates in several outback communities have barely improved.
In 2008, he published a definitive book "Trachoma: ABlinding Scourge from the BronzeAge to the 21st Century" and made clear his commitment to wipe out trachoma in Australia over the next five years.
A pilot program, The Elimination of Trachoma in the Katherine Region, will commence in 2009, to assess,treat and eradicate trachoma.
Supported by the Christian Blind Mission and donors the Bowen and Middleton families, in partnership with health services in the Katherine region, the pilot will serve as a model for national initiatives to be rolled out across Australia. Professor Taylor believes that trachoma in Australia can be eradicated within five years and that this couldn't be done without the support of donors and partners. "These significant and generous grants will go towards improving one of the critical health problems for Indigenous Australians," he said.
By Eliza Bellmaine and Rebecca Hyde