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The Look Out Project from the eyes of an Ophthalmologist

The Look Out Project is an RWAV initiative and aims to deliver Ophthalmology outreach services at selected Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs), specifically to facilitate greater access to Diabetic Retinopathy treatment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Indigenous Diabetes Eyes and Screening (IDEAS) Van is a mobile eye clinic to screen, treat and help prevent blindness due to diabetes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Based in Queensland, this was the first time the IDEAS Van had travelled to Victoria to facilitate eye health clinics.

The Look Out Project was developed after consultations identified that many Aboriginal patients travel to Melbourne or other larger regional centres every four to six weeks for eye procedures associated with diabetes, macular degeneration and glaucoma. These eye conditions, if left untreated, can lead to vision loss or blindness in patients. The program also involved upskilling and training of local healthcare workers in the use of Diabetic Retinopathy Cameras, which are a critical tool in the diagnosis and monitoring of Diabetic Retinopathy. This creates a sustainable option for improved eye healthcare in communities.

The IDEAS Van clinics commenced at MVAC, Robinvale on 28 June 2019 and made its way around Victoria to four other chosen sites in the first week of July – IPC Health, Wyndham Vale; Winda Mara, Heywood; Moogji Aboriginal Council, Orbost; and AWAHS, Wodonga. The IDEAS Van then travelled back to Queensland and will return to Victoria in early September. The clinics will be held bi-monthly at each site. 

Dr Malvika Gupta, Ophthalmology Surgeon and Retinal Specialist who provided her services at the Wyndham Vale clinic, gives her account of the day:

“The IDEAS Van visited IPC Health in Wyndham Vale on 3 July. Previously the IDEAS Van travelled to remote locations in Queensland; this was the first time for a van-based ophthalmology clinic to participate in Victoria for improving eye health amongst Indigenous communities. The team comprised of health care workers, including health care assistants, an optometrist, an orthoptist and an ophthalmologist. In Queensland, the van has been treating diabetes-related eye diseases. This team widened the care plan to include any eye problems with glaucoma and cataracts emerging as important issues, following diabetic retinopathy in the lead.”

“The IDEAS Van is equipped with a full range of eye care equipment, ranging from optical testing to screening for glaucoma and retinal disorders including diabetic maculopathy and age-related macular degeneration. It also has the facilities to manage these conditions on the spot with topical medications, lasers and eye injections. Pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis and Bayer, have also extended their full support for the cause by donating drugs for eye injections, which are worth many thousands of dollars.”

“Patients claimed how glad they were to have a dedicated eye health care service closer to them when earlier they had to travel anywhere between 30-50 km to access eye care. Many of these patients are known diabetics and have many comorbidities which make that access difficult. Having this service for the Wyndham Vale community is a boon, and we need to make the most use of this opportunity by spreading the word and making sure many people can benefit from this.”

The IDEAS Van is an initiative of the Medical Outreach Indigenous Chronic Disease Program funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and administered by RWAV in Victoria.

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