Disease detectives hunt for nasty eye infection in Camoooweal

EYE CHECK: Dr Garry Brian checking for signs of trachoma in Camooweal this week. Picture: supplied.

EYE CHECK: Dr Garry Brian checking for signs of trachoma in Camooweal this week. Picture: supplied.

A taskforce of health professionals arrived in Camooweal this week to hunt for a dangerous eye disease found in some remote Indigenous communities. 

Australia is on a mission to eliminate trachoma, the painful bacterial infection that can lead to permanent loss of sight, by 2020. 

A national program is responsible for stamping out the infection by the turn of the decade. 

And the program appears to be working. 

Medical teams are parachuted into communities around the country to firstly see if the disease is there, then go about treating it. 

In 2008 the rate of blindness among Indigenous Australians was six times worse than non-Indigenous Australians.

That ratio has now halved.

Among the team visiting Camooweal this week was Queensland Health communicable diseases expert Stephen Lambert.

Dr Lambert said the team of experts were confident they would not find any trachoma in Camooweal but thought it was still important to screen the community to be sure.  

They spent the past week flipping the eyelids of as many residents as they could find, to see if there was any evidence of trachoma. 

“We do not suspect there is any trachoma here in Camooweal,” Dr Lambert said.

TRACHOMA TEAM: Garry Brian, Wendy Morotti, Dorris Craigie, Rebecca Hayes, Kate Lynch and Stephen Lambert. Picture: supplied.

TRACHOMA TEAM: Garry Brian, Wendy Morotti, Dorris Craigie, Rebecca Hayes, Kate Lynch and Stephen Lambert. Picture: supplied.

“But we are still actively screening for a few reasons. The World Health Organisations has a goal of eliminating blinding trachoma by 2020, so although we do not think there is any trachoma here – we want to make sure we are right.”

Australia is the only developed nation with endemic rates of trachoma and Indigenous communities are the only place the disease is still found.

Dr Lambert said the trachoma program is vital to improving health equity. 

“The program is really about making sure we are progressing so trachoma is no longer a public health problem,” Dr Lambert said. 

“It is not an equitable thing that people in the city have good eye health but people living in remote communities are still getting trachoma.”

While trachoma seems to have mostly vanished in Queensland – it is still alive and well in other parts of the country. 

In its latest budget, the Federal Government has promised $34.3 million to help treat eye disease in Aboriginal communities.