Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are three times more likely to have poor vision compared with other Australians. People arriving in Australia from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds struggle to access eye care and vision correction support.

Brien Holden Foundation wishes to advise that this website may contain names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. It also contains links to sites that may also use images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased.

Aboriginal Vision Program

The Aboriginal Vision Program improves access to optometry services for Aboriginal communities, contributing towards the prevention of avoidable vision loss. Brien Holden Foundation provides services directly, guides policy through participating in relevant sector working groups and committees, conducts research, develops & delivers eye health training to primary health care practitioners, and actively collaborates with other organisations working with these communities.

We opened our first optometry clinic in Walgett, New South Wales in December 1999. In 2007, at the direct request of Aboriginal eye health coordinators and their Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, the service was expanded to the Northern Territory.

We work in partnership with these health services to provide visiting optometry services as part of their broader primary health care programs. We train, upskill and mentor primary health care workers to enable eye health checks and referral pathways to be regularly supported by the health centre.

These visiting services, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the Visiting Optometrist Scheme, are currently provided to 140 regional, rural, and remote locations across NSW and NT. For scale, from 2015 to 2019 we provided 39,920 individual eye examinations and 27,204 pairs of glasses to Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal Vision Program

Downloadable Brochure PDF

The provision of eye health equipment and training (PEHET) program

Diabetes related vision impairment is almost four times higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to non-Indigenous Australians and 98% of vision loss in Aboriginal communities is preventable or treatable. The PEHET program is increasing the rate of diabetic retinopathy screening by Aboriginal primary health care services. If caught early, diabetic retinopathy can be treated with good results. If not diagnosed early, it can be exceedingly difficult or impossible to treat and can cause permanent vision loss.

The Australian Government funds the national PEHET program providing eye health testing equipment, training, and support for the health service practitioners at 162 sites across Australia. We train Aboriginal health workers, nurses, general practitioners, and all other relevant personnel. 

We co-ordinate the program supported by the Federal Department of Health and co-lead the program with The Australian College of Optometry through a consortium approach. The consortium also includes the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, the Centre for Eye Health and Optometry Australia.

The consortium works collaboratively to implement the integrated program with guidance from an advisory group of representatives from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health service sector. Our goal is to increase access to detection and care of eye disease within the communities we serve.

Training provided at each site as part of the PEHET program

Course 1

Retinal Camera Training for Primary Health Care Workers
  • 2 hours online training by Brien Holden Foundation 
  • 1-day face-to-face training with consortium members and local co-trainers
  • 1-day mentoring and upskilling with consortium member or visiting optometrist

Course 2

Diabetic Retinopathy Assessment: A Training Course
  • 2 hours online – Centre for Eye Health Learning for Vision course
  • Reading Service – Centre for Eye Health

Stage 3

Slit Lamp

Slit Lamps are being distributed to site from June 2020 (COVID-19 Safe dependent)

Stage 4

Embedding Retinal Cameras into Practice

Tools kits are being distributed to all health services that participated in retinal camera training. Pull-up banners and other materials to help promote diabetic retinopathy screening in health services are also being distributed.

Refugee Program

We are honoured to be an integral part of refugee health programs across Australia, offering support to the refugees who seek to make Australia home. When they arrive on our shores, Brien Holden Foundation is there, at a number of facilities, to provide eye health examinations and on-going care. We provide a blend of clinical services and eye health training and support to refugee support services in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.

In 2019, every refugee who arrived in Darwin went through a Brien Holden Foundation Eye Clinic.  For many, it represented the first time they had ever undergone an eye examination, received a diagnosis or corrective lenses.  Eye testing and the receipt of glasses, where necessary, can be crucial moments of progress towards a new life for many of the people seeking to make Australia their new home.

“The eye clinic has created a blueprint for cultural and clinical safety in Refugee Health at Melaleuca,” says Melaleuca Refugee Centre Health Leader, Scott Andrews.  “The clinic has created an excellent model to aid the reform process for refugee health in the NT.”

Health Communication: Let’s Talk About Your Eyes

Acknowledgement of Country

BHVI and Brien Holden Foundation acknowledges the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the many lands that we live and work on, and their continuing connection to Country and culture.

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