Over the last 10 years, the specialist eye care consulting and surgical services being offered to both Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous populations living in the remotest parts of Australia has been varied and in some cases non-existent. Nationally there remains a very real gap in the eye services being offered to Australians living in ‘the bush’ and their city cousins despite the need (particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) being far greater.
The unfortunate reality is that many preventable eye conditions remain undetected and untreated – in particular cataracts and diabetic retinopathies.
IRIS helps close the gap
To meet this need, the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists in conjunction with the Federal Department of Health commissioned the establishment of the Indigenous and Remote Eye Health Service (IRIS) in 2011
Since this time, $5 million has been allocated by the Department of Health to IRIS with the sole focus of improving specialist eye service delivery to remote Australia.
The fundamental mission of IRIS is to bring the best eye health specialists into Indigenous and remote communities rather than have individuals travel often extensive distances to larger population centres where they feel alienated and scared.
The result has been a ‘borderless’ eye health service that transcends state boundaries. IRIS is the only entity that provides this service on a national basis.
Expert oversight delivers quality outcomes
A dedicated and committed band of volunteers with extensive experience in eye health provide oversight of the IRIS Program. Known as the IRIS Taskforce, they are chaired by senior Brisbane ophthalmologist, Dr Mark Loane AM.
Every effort is made to ensure the taskforce reflects various eye health disciplines and provides as wide a state diversity as possible.
Outreach programs undertaken by IRIS are assessed on the basis of national needs and priorities. Locations and patient needs are carefully scrutinised to ensure the greatest good can be achieved with what is very limited funding given the size and complexity of the challenge.
A track record to be proud of
Everyone associated with IRIS would like to be able to achieve more because the demand is so great. But what has been achieved is still something to be proud of. During the past four years this includes:
- More than 8,000 medical consultations for those living in the most remote areas of Australia.
- More than 1,000 surgical procedures for those in greatest danger of going blind.
- Provision of specialist eye health services to remote and Indigenous Australians in every State and Territory (with the exception of the ACT).
- Identification, purchase, placement and maintenance of $1,500,000 worth of eye health equipment to support remote eye health services.
- Delivery of a nationally-coordinated approach to the implementation of telehealth services to remote locations across Australia.
- Delivery of a broadband enabled telehealth trial in the Torres Straits in partnership with the CSIRO.
IRIS has now developed into a streamlined and effective national secondary/tertiary eye health service that enables the highest level of medical competence expected in metropolitan areas to be made available to those suffering previously from the absence of any service through the tyranny of distance.
IRIS is meeting its brief and many Australian’s both Indigenous and non-Indigenous previously unable to access specialist eye services now directly have this support. The ASO is working with the Department of Health and other stakeholders to ensure the good work delivered by the program to date can be continued and built upon.
For further information about the program, please visit: www.irisprogram.com.au