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For Lions Outback Vision optometrist Michelle Beach, attending the 2023 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference (NATSIEHC23)
was an opportunity to enhance eye health for the most vulnerable communities.

Michelle was one of four health professionals who were supported by Rural Health West to attend the conference in Sydney, which attracted 240 delegates working to improve eye health access an outcomes for First Nations people.

As an advocate for Indigenous people in the ‘eye space’, Michelle said the conference was a rich source of shared wisdom and opportunity for connection.

“It was wonderful to see so many organisations in this space and get to network with other health professionals. Most importantly there was a great focus on allyship and how to support self-determination in health for Indigenous peoples,” Michelle said.

Michelle also gained a better understanding of the immense pressure on Aboriginal health care workers.

Aboriginal Health Council of WA Eye Health Coordinator Shalorna Dykman said the conference provided her with an opportunity to implement new knowledge and
skills to her workplace.

“It was a great place to network with other health professionals in the eye space and hear about eye health programs at their services,” Shalorna said.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) delegates workshop was a great display of working collaboratively to achieve the same goal of improved eye health.

“For me personally, this workshop was the highlight of the conference, as it was a safe space where all delegates could have a constructive conversation on issues affecting ATSI people.”

Port Hedland-based Lions Outback Vision optometrist Byron Klein also travelled to the conference as part of the sponsorship provided by Rural Health West.

Working in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, Byron is passionate about improving the eye health and vision of Australians living in rural and remote WA.

“I was able to learn a number of ways that I can better communicate with ATSI people, especially in the context of eye care,” Byron said.

“Learning about deficit discourse in the context of health for ATSI people helped me understand how it is produced and how often it occurs, often in subtle ways.”

“These insights have motivated me to do more to challenge this discourse and change the narrative.”

Hearing keynote speaker Uncle James ‘Michael’ Widdy Welsh’s story as a member of the Stolen Generation truly resonated with Byron.

“Hearing him speak about his life and the atrocities that he has endured was something else; his strength and resilience is remarkable,” he said.

“It highlighted how important it is to shed light on this dark part of Australia’s history now and in the future in order for true understanding, reconciliation and healing to continue.”

Other delegates included representatives from Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and other primary care service providers, eye care clinicians, policy makers, researchers, non-government organisations, hospitals, professional peak bodies and government departments from across the country.

Lions Outback Vision optometrist Rajneil Prasad also travelled to the conference as part of the sponsorship.

Rural Health West administers the
Visiting Optometrists Scheme, Eye and Ear Surgical Support and the Medical Outreach Indigenous Chronic Disease Program which
provide more equitable access to optometry and specialist eye health services across WA.

Rural Health West is committed to
the improved coordination of eye health services, including improved linkages between the range of services required by patients and enhanced delivery of those services.

Acknowledgement of Country