Cataract surgery access is improving, but too slow to meet population-based needs.

At this year's RANZCO conference, IEHU’s Guy Gillor, Mitchell Anjou and Shaun Tatipata presented a poster titled: ‘Cataract Surgery: Is equity improving for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians?’

The poster referenced publicly available data from the past 10 years to examine where we stand in the sector efforts to improve equity in access to cataract surgery.

The poster shows the difference in access rates for eye exams compared to cataract surgery (70% of exams needs met vs 39% of surgery needs met in 2018/2019). This suggests a particular ‘leak’ in the pathway from exam to surgery.

Over the past decade, the percentage of cataract surgery needs met is improving, but too slowly. At the current growth rate, it will take well over a decade to meet the estimated population-based needs. This is unacceptable, and completely out of line with existing strategic goals and government commitments. This includes Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan, which has committed to ‘end avoidable blindness in Indigenous communities by 2025’.

The poster discussed the important role of public hospitals in improving equity for cataract surgery. In 2020/2021, almost two thirds of cataract surgeries for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were performed through the public system (65%), compared to less than just one third of cataract surgeries for other Australians (32%).

During the past decade however, cataract surgery in private increased at a higher rate than in public, and the share of surgery in public is in slow decline. Coupled with persisting inequity in wait times in some areas, any decrease in relative capacity for cataract surgeries in the public system is likely to have a compounding impact on access to cataract surgery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

A key element of improving access to cataract surgery is cultural safety in healthcare. The poster notes the current lack of a consistent framework to monitor and ensure cultural safety in access to cataract surgery.

The poster was selected as an ‘Australian Vision Research recommended abstract’ in the poster program under the Epidemiology / Public Health theme.

Please find the full poster here.

Previous IEHU conference poster presentations are available on the IEHU website – please follow this link if you are interested to view more IEHU conference posters