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Project aim

To eliminate trachoma in 10 indigenous communities in the Norther Territory.

Background on this issue

Trachoma is a highly infectious, severely painful disease. It is the largest infectious cause of blindness in the world with around 4.6 million people in advanced stages of the disease. Over time a person’s eyelids become scarred and the eyelashes turn inwards, rubbing on the cornea and ultimately causing blindness (called Trichiasis).

There is good news however – it is preventable and treatable. The Fred Hollows Foundation works to eliminate trachoma through a World

Health Organisation treatment strategy called S.A.F.E: Surgery, Antibiotics, Face washing, Environment.

Trachoma in Indigenous Australia

Australia is the only developed country in the world where trachoma remains active. There is still more work to be done to eliminate this disease in Australia for good. It is still present in two thirds of remote communities in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.

Project Objectives & Results

Our Objectives:

  • Increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians being screened and treated for trachoma
  • Expand the support offered to community-based workers to take part in implementing components of SAFE programs
  • Expand community awareness and implementation of good hygiene practices
  • Continue to work with government to ensure environmental improvements are made where necessary in affected communities, to ensure the sustainability of SAFE strategies

Through the work of a number of organisations, including continued support from The Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program team, Australia is on course to eliminate trachoma by 2020 (National Trachoma Surveillance Reporting Unit). Australia has, over recent years, made significant progress in reducing the prevalence of Trachoma amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That is, national Trachoma prevalence dropped from 14% in 2009 to 4% in 2013.

Trachoma is now considered eliminated in QLD and NSW.

The Foundation has continued to develop the use of Community Based Workers so that they have a more effective role in trachoma elimination. Based on feedback, The Foundation knows that having Community Based Workers assists significantly with the success of working towards trachoma elimination in Australia.

Your support allowed us to:

  • Support the training and employment of 7 Community Based Workers in the Northern Territory.
  • Increase community knowledge about Trachoma and how to prevent it, especially amongst children
  • Increase the level of health promotion activities, such as sup- porting regular hand and face washing activities in schools and child care facilities.

Project Feedback

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Trachoma Elimination Program has reached a wide range of Indigenous communities in remote parts of Australia, especially through its training of Community Based Workers.

The Trachoma nurses of the NT Government Centre for Disease said that “without (Aboriginal Community Based Workers) we would be ineffective – they make a major difference to the efficiency of the whole trachoma treatment week.”

“Without their help and knowledge the project wouldn’t have achieved the results that it did. After such a positive experience, we are advocating strongly for Community Based Workers to be employed at other communities in the NT.”

Gabrielle Watt, the NT Government Health Department’s Trachoma Pro- gram Coordinator met Doeena, an Aboriginal Community Based Worker trained by The Foundation working in Ti Tree. Gabrielle said Dooena is fabulous and the assistance she provides is invaluable to the program.

Gabrielle said, “We can’t go to somebody’s house or a community as a complete stranger and ask them to take medication – we need someone who is locally trusted to explain what the medication is for and why.”

Project partners

Developed in collaboration with the Northern Territory Government’s Centre for Disease Control and the University of Melbourne Indigenous Eye Health Unit, the program will be implemented in partnership with these agencies and managed by The Fred Hollows Foundation. The Foundation is committed to the World Health Organisation’s Global Elimination of Blinding Trachoma by 2020 initiative.

What's Next? 

The Fred Hollows Foundation will continue to work on its objectives to eliminate Trachoma from remote Indigenous communities through this project until 2018. The Foundation will also continue to work with Indigenous communities in Australia through their IAP team, in order to see Ab- originals in Australia experience the same level of health, and access to health, as other Australians.

This year the program is:

  • Supporting the employment and training of up to 20 Aboriginal Community Based Workers with a focus on 10 remote Aboriginal communities located in the remote Barkly and Central Australia regions of the NT
  • Support the implementation of the tri-state Trachoma Elimination Project
  • Advocate to government to sustain investment in eye care and to end trachoma; and specifically to resource the “F” and “E” components of the SAFE strategy    

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