Eliminating trachoma through cultural engagement

September 11 / 69

Yamba the Honey Ant with trachoma mascot Milpa the Trachoma Goanna
Yamba the Honey Ant with trachoma mascot Milpa the Trachoma Goanna

The Indigenous Eye Health Unit at the School of Population Health is working to eliminate the blinding eye disease trachoma from remote Australian Indigenous communities. 

The infectious bacterial disease disappeared from mainstream Australia 100 years ago.

Australia is the only developed country in the world where trachoma is still prevalent - in many outback areas the high rates of disease have contributed to 9 per cent of preventable blindness in adults.

Under the leadership of Melbourne Laureate Professor Hugh R. Taylor AC, the Indigenous Eye Health Unit was established in 2008 to support trachoma elimination and conduct research and policy development by exploring barriers and enablers for Indigenous people accessing eye health services. 

Project Officer Fiona Lange said the University’s team was developing solid policies based on research findings and was trying to engage remote Indigenous communities to change behaviour. 

In partnership with local services and Melbourne Football Club, the unit ran a footy clinic and good health day in Katherine, NT. Several Melbourne players including Walpiri man Liam Jurrah conducted the clinic with more than 150 children and 60 adults from seven communities around Katherine.

The football clinic was followed by the official launch of the Clean Faces = Strong Eyes campaign in Darwin, which included the introduction of trachoma mascot Milpa the Trachoma Goanna, who will join popular children’s television character Yamba the Honey Ant to promote the campaign with young children and families.

The campaign will engage community groups, schools and medical clinics to teach children, medical staff and teachers about the best way to prevent the spread of the disease - by keeping children's faces clean of eye and nose secretions.

Ms Lange said the World Health Organisation promoted the SAFE strategy - Surgery, Antibiotics, Face cleanliness and Environmental improvement - to eliminate trachoma.

 “The trachoma elimination programs using the SAFE strategy are beginning to reduce the prevalence of trachoma, but making facial cleanliness a reality is challenging, because it involves behavioural change.” she said.

“Environmental improvements such as access to safe and reliable water, and reducing overcrowded housing will help, but it’s the environmental risk factors revolving around poor personal and community hygiene that enable the spread of trachoma.  We want to encourage clean faces as the social norm in remote Indigenous communities.”

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