Eye Health

Eye health conditions are very common in Australia and may be present from birth as a result of illness or injury, or developed over time due to ageing.

Page last updated: 10 October 2017

What are common eye health conditions?

Five common eye health conditions affecting Australians are cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and uncorrected refractive error.

What are the risk factors for eye health conditions?

The main non-modifiable risk factors for eye disease are genetic factors and the ageing process. Lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity contribute to the development of eye disease.

Treatment or management of eye health conditions

In addition to the general practice routine consultation items, a series of specific items have been made available under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to support clinicians to encourage a structured approach to the planning and management of chronic conditions, including items for the treatment of cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and uncorrected refractive error. Comprehensive consultations and re-assessments by optometrists are also available under the MBS for people experiencing significant change of visual function and progressive disorders. Information on the MBS can be found at the MBS website.

Eligible patients can also be referred by a general practitioner for up to five Medicare subsidised allied health services that are directly related to the treatment of their chronic eye health condition.

In order to encourage early detection, diagnosis and intervention for common and treatable conditions, such as eye health conditions, health assessment items are also available for people aged 45-49 years who are at risk of developing chronic disease, people aged 75 years and older, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

There are a range of medicines listed for the treatment of eye health conditions. There may also be medicines available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) used in alleviating symptoms associated with eye health conditions. Information on the PBS can be found at the PBS website.

Eye health programs and initiatives

Eye health is addressed at a national level through a range of programs and initiatives to support the treatment and management of eye health problems. Eye health programs and initiatives include:

National Eye Health Survey 2016

The National Eye Health Survey 2016 is the first nationwide Australian based survey focused on eye health. It was designed to determine the prevalence and causes of vision impairment and blindness in Australia and measure the treatment coverage rate of major eye disease and conditions.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Rural Eye Health programs and initiatives

  • Trachoma - The National Trachoma Surveillance and Reporting Unit (NTSRU) was established in November 2006 to improve the quality and consistency of data collection and reporting of active trachoma in Australia.
  • Visiting Optometrists Scheme - The Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS) supports optometrists to deliver outreach optometric services to remote and very remote locations, and rural communities with an identified need for optometric services.
  • The Rural Health Outreach Fund (RHOF) - The RHOF consolidates activities of five outreach programmes aimed at supporting people living in regional, rural and remote locations to access a wide range of health care services. There are four priorities under the RHOF: eye health; maternity and paediatric health; mental health; and support for chronic disease management. The five programmes consolidated under the RHOF are:
    - The Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program (MSOAP);
    - MSOAP – Ophthalmology expansion;
    - MSOAP – Maternity services expansion;
    - Rural Women’s GP Service Program; and
    - National Rural and Remote Health – Kimberley Paediatric Outreach Program.

Research funding for eye conditions

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) awards funding for research in the area of eye health. More information can be found at the NHMRC website.
Data and information can be requested from NHMRC.

Related Links and information

World Health Organization Universal Eye Health - A Global Action Plan 2014 - 2019 (the Global Action Plan)

In May 2003 the 56th World Health Assembly passed Resolution WHA56.26 on the elimination of avoidable blindness. The resolution urged all member states to develop a national Vision 2020 plan in collaboration with non-government organisations and the private sector to prevent avoidable blindness.

In response to Resolution WHA56.26, the National Framework for Action to Promote Eye Health and Prevent Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss was developed by the Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Department of Human Services in conjunction with all states and territories and in consultation with the non-government sector.

National Framework for Action to Promote Eye Health and Prevent Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss (2005)

The National Framework for Action to Promote Eye Health and Prevent Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss (the Framework) sets out a strategic national framework for action for the promotion of eye health and the prevention of avoidable blindness. Five key action areas are outlined that have the potential to lead to the prevention of avoidable blindness and low vision:
  • Reducing the risk of eye disease and injury;
  • Increasing early detection;
  • Improving access to eye health care services;
  • Improving the systems and quality of care; and
  • Improving the underlying evidence base.
All jurisdictions have reported every three years to Health Ministers on progress against the key action areas in the Framework. Links to progress reports to date: The Australian Government Department of Health released an Implementation Plan for the period 2014-2016. The Implementation Plan builds on existing eye health care services and programmes, support coordination of effort, provide guidance on the mechanisms to address key priorities, identify indicators and other measures of progress, and guide investment and future activity and action across the Department of Health.