Eye care on Country – Pilbara Challenge update

In 2023 Lions Outback Vision was chosen as one of 10 finalists from almost 100 global submissions in the Western Australian Government’s Pilbara Challenge.

Warlu artificial intelligence (AI) project

The Pilbara Challenge is a search for world-leading medical research and innovation solutions to resolve the pressing problem of health service delivery in the vast Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations have three times the rates of blindness and 14 times the rates of loss of vision from diabetes, which makes access to eye care in the remote Pilbara region critical.

Lions Outback Vision staff examining a patient using optical coherence tomography with AI integration

Combining their existing expertise with a network of ophthalmologists and Aboriginal eye health workers based in Broome with state-of-the-art AI equipped technology gives Lions Outback Vision a leading edge in delivering better eye health outcomes to this remote region.

By being selected as a finalist in the Pilbara Challenge, the Lions Outback Vision team has progressed to the proof-of-concept stage. The team has until late 2024 deliver their health solution on the ground in the Pilbara. At the end of this period, the best health solution will receive $5 million, supported by the Future Health Research and Innovation Fund, Rio Tinto and BHP.

AI integration and novel laser equipment

Lions Outback Vision’s project targets chronic disease care on Country through better access to eye health screening. Australia’s first handheld retinal camera with AI integration is being used to detect diabetic retinopathy and enable point of care diagnosis as part of the screening process.

A head-mounted ultra lightweight laser called the Norlase Lion is being deployed in the Pilbara

A sprinter van is decked out with the specialist screening equipment and can travel off-road to more remote communities in the Pilbara, delivering a diabetes focused screening service that integrates with existing primary health care and connects to specialist management.

Another Australian first as part of the Warlu AI project is to deploy a novel laser that is a fraction of the weight of other comparable treatment devices, called the Norlase Lion. This laser enables follow-up treatment on Country, where a specialist provides laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy with the head mounted ultra lightweight laser.

Telehealth consultations

On the spot telehealth consults with an ophthalmologist are provided for anyone with a positive diagnosis, which is a vast improvement on the lengthy prior model of care for diabetic retinopathy screening. Additionally, telehealth with other specialist services such as cardiology, endocrinology and nephrology are offered.

Diabetes monitoring and education

Lions Outback Vision has also developed a culturally appropriate education video about diabetic retinopathy, which will be used to improve patient understanding and awareness of diabetic
complications. The resources are available in both English and Martu Wangka – the most commonly spoken Indigenous language in the region.

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