June was our biannual trip to the Umoona Health Centre at Coober Pedy. “Umoona” stands for long life and we are kindly referred to as the “Guru” doctors. “Guru” stands for eye.
Coober Pedy in June is a reprise from the constant heat that takes hold of most of the area for the majority of the year. I always think of what a great place it is to create some winter oasis for us Southerners to escape the cold. The starkness and vastness of the Australian desert is always present. How humans can survive these extremes is bewildering.
Coober Pedy was filled with the “Grey Army”, with everyone wanting to know where you are going and coming from, and the adventures that were about to take place.
Our team of consists of an optometrist, me, ophthalmologist Dr Paul Athanasiov, and coordinator Chris Rektinas. We are involved in “Closing the Gap”, providing primary eye care to the local Indigenous people.
The primary eye conditions that we encounter are diabetic retinopathy (diabetes of the eye), cataracts and refractive errors (glasses). Generally, half the patients are diabetics and are screened annually for signs of diabetic retinopathy. Cataracts are more advanced than what is generally seen here at the city practice. Commonly the presenting complaint I get is, “my distance vision is a little off”, to find out that the individual can’t see the largest letters on the chart!
Vision 2020 have set goals for all us to achieve in “Closing the Gap”, however, it is still remarkable to hear that:
- The rate of blindness within the indigenous community is 6 fold greater than the general population
- 94% of the vision loss for the Indigenous community is preventable or treatable
- 35% of all Aboriginals have never had an eye exam.