In July 2013, Queensland Health provided a $5 million donation to Diamond Jubilee Partnerships Ltd (a subsidiary of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Australia) for an innovative project “to substantially reduce blindness and visual impairment amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes in Queensland.” The project was a tribute to the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
By the age of 40, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 6 to 10 times more likely to experience loss of vision than other Australians, and in 94% of cases, this vision loss could have been treated or prevented with access to the high-quality eye care available to other Australians. In response, the IDEAS initiative has taken steps to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes and those at risk of developing diabetes, access to high-quality multidisciplinary and specialist care.
Diamond Jubilee Partnerships Ltd and its partners created a mobile ophthalmic treatment centre, the ”IDEAS Van”, with a visiting rural and remote eye specialist service. A state wide retinal screening and grading program and on-line telehealth endocrinology consultancy was established. In March 2014, the “IDEAS Van”, a mobile and fully equipped ophthalmology, optometry and imaging specialist centre with state of the art diagnostic tools began operations. The IDEAS Van travels around Queensland serving as a mobile treatment centre for people who have been referred for specialist treatment by their local Aboriginal Medical Service.
Since commencing operations in March 2014, the IDEAS Initiative has worked with 19 different Aboriginal communities. As of October 31st, 2016, the local Aboriginal Medical Service has screened 4,041 patients, taken 20,649 retinal photographs with 27 retinal cameras across 51 different sites. 2,257 patients have been seen in one of our 115 clinics at 13 separate rural and remote sites across Queensland. During that time, the IDEAS van has travelled over 180,000 km.
The initiative aims to close the health gap for rural and remote communities by providing access to gold standard specialist services and treatment in the familiar surrounds of their own community. To try and work closely with existing Rural Outreach Health programs and with those involved in the delivery of health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland to enhance the good work already being done to close the health gap.
The IDEAS initiative has leveraged and enhanced the capabilities of 19 Aboriginal Medical Services across Queensland, with education and training to photograph patients using a retinal screening camera and to use the results of that imaging to prepare a clinic for a visit by the IDEAS Van, from booking in an appointment for screening next year through to referral for urgent ophthalmic care. Endocrinology support is provided by the Princess Alexandra Hospital through a clinical grade telehealth service.
The extraordinary band of volunteer ophthalmologists and optometrists have been with the project since the project began and not only have provided treatment but have forged strong relationships with the medical and clinical teams of each AMS.
Twenty-four partners provide a wealth of resources and experience that underpin the success of the IDEAS Initiative. Their enthusiasm for the project and their willingness to provide support when requested means that funds are maximised for the benefit of the patients. Their support has meant that the initial donation was able to cover four years instead of the original two.
By providing access to first-class eye care in familiar and culturally appropriate regional settings, the IDEAS initiative has improved the detection and treatment of diabetes and its complications in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and by doing so substantially reduce avoidable blindness and visual impairment among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes. Reducing the burden of diabetic complications in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – particularly vision loss and blindness – represents an important step towards closing the health gap.
Lyndall De Marco
CEO IDEAS Van