Health disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples threaten to widen during COVID-19 pandemic

The Fred Hollows Foundation (The Foundation) and The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology (RANZCO) released a joint statement in June calling upon the eye health sector to consider equity of access to eye health care in post COVID-19 planning.

59 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples who need cataract surgery will receive it, in contrast to 89 percent of other Australians.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients will also wait 40 percent longer than other Australians.

The Foundation and RANZCO are working collaboratively towards closing this disparity and improving access to safe health care in Australia.  Access to ophthalmic care may worsen for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples if this is not specifically addressed in health service planning.

Senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Officer for The Fred Hollows Foundation, Tennille Lamb, describes how the ongoing pandemic has affected doctors’ ability to reach remote communities to treat patients.

“A lot of communities closed down quite early and did not let anyone in who wasn’t an essential service and eye care was not.”

Patient-centred approaches are an essential element in supporting equity of access, as the statement encourages health providers to bulk bill Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients in their post-pandemic responses.

“It is about ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples don’t get left behind post COVID-19, because we know pandemics can mean that the inequity and inequality already in place can grow.  We are trying to draw on health providers to use new initiatives and innovative thinking to make sure this does not happen.”

New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian governments announced in May a $675 million elective surgery blitz to boost capacity in the health system and ensure postponed COVID-19 cases are treated within clinically recommended periods.

“What we do hope is that the extra funding puts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples further towards the beginning to close the gap so that they are not left behind,” Tennille said of the funding.

The statement released by The Foundation and RANZCO encourages the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to include equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as a core principle as elective surgery recommences.

The joint statement between The Fred Hollows Foundation and RANZCO can be accessed here: https://ranzco.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/joint-statement-RANZCO-and-fred-hollows-foundation_FINAL.pdf

Image Source: The Fred Hollows Foundation

Georgia Franc

Georgia is a media & communications student at the University of Melbourne and is pursuing a career in journalism. She also has a passion for foreign languages, writing and travel. She also currently works as an associate for an investment management company where she focuses on data research with input on various marketing processes.