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A number of researchers within the School of Optometry and Vision Science are interested in improving access to eye care in New Zealand and in the Pacific. Related projects include examining the prevalence of children’s vision disorders, improving access to eye care services in New Zealand, new rapid portable eye tests for utilisation in community settings and the epidemiology of eye conditions such as myopia.

The past year has seen advancements in our research capacity within this field. The new Community Eye Health Committee (initiated by Joanna Black and Lisa Hamm) has formed to inform better research practice, and Joanna’s FRDF grant has facilitated numerous projects in this field. The key facilitator to increasing our research capacity has been working with Jacqui Ramke.

Jacqui has been a part of the group since August 2018. She studied Optometry in Australia and worked in indigenous eye health before living in Timor-Leste and partnering with the Ministry of Health to develop the first National Eye Health Program. Her work there revealed a lack of evidence on how to implement services that reduce inequality in eye health. After leaving Timor-Leste and settling in New Zealand she decided to focus her PhD on how to promote equity in eye health.

Jacqui is currently undertaking a Commonwealth Rutherford Postdoctoral Fellowship at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where she continues to explore the topic. On her return to New Zealand early next year she aims to develop and test strategies to improve access to eye care for all new Zealanders, with a particular focus on Māori, Pacifica, and those living with socioeconomic disadvantage.

In preparation for this, Jacqui is working on a range of preliminary studies with colleagues at SOVS, from elsewhere in the University of Auckland, and internationally. One such study has summarised the evidence on diabetic eye disease and attendance at retinal screening in New Zealand, and highlighted that Pacifica and Māori have higher rates of sight-threatening disease and lower rates of screening attendance compared to Europeans. On her return to New Zealand Jacqui says she is looking forward to working with service providers and people with lived experience of diabetes and eye health problems to identify and test strategies to reduce these sorts of inequities in eye health.

Main image: Dr Jacqui Ramke