Eye Health and Low Literacy within Indigenous Communities

Sadly, it is a well-known fact that the Indigenous population has low literacy levels, particularly in remote communities, where English is often the second language. The development of English literacy skills is important for the life opportunities of Indigenous children and youth. According to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, literacy provides “The necessary skills to interact within mainstream society and avail themselves of the broadest range of civic, social, educational and employment possibilities”. Low literacy also prevents Aboriginal students from entering higher education and universities.

The Australian lifestyle is taking its toll on eyes with vision loss being symptomatic of exposure to the sun causing eye cancers, cataracts and macular degeneration in people as they age. Poor diet and smoking are two of a number of health risks, which contribute to late onset blindness causing diseases such as diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts. The National Indigenous Eye Health (NIEH) Survey reports a high prevalence of blindness and vision impairment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 5 to 15 years and adults over the age of 40 years. The NIEH survey states, “Indigenous people over the age of 40 years are six times more likely to develop blindness compared with non-Indigenous people. The NIEH states that trachoma, which causes blindness if left untreated, was found in one-half of the “very remote” Indigenous communities at endemic levels for a developed country, while adults with “trachoma scarring and in-turned lashes (trichiasis)” are found across the country. According to The Fred Hollows Foundation Indigenous Australians are “12 times more likely to become blind from cataracts”. Cataracts caused 32% of blindness in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and 13% of the 37% of Indigenous Australians with diabetes have a visual impairment, yet only 20% of those with diabetes had regular eye examinations.