Pulled by a UD Quon GK 4×2, the St John’s Ambulance Eye Van is the first of its kind in the world, designed to support rural and remote communities.
The Eye Van is being used in an effort to substantially reduce blindness and visual impairment amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with diabetes. Since its inception in 2013, it has treated over 5500 people.
UD Trucks Australia’s partnership with the Eye Van (formerly called the IDEAS Van) involves providing and maintaining the prime mover that pulls the mobile ophthalmology clinic. The IDEAS Van was independent before merging with St John’s Ambulance in January this year and becoming known as the Eye Van.
“UD Trucks’ mission is ‘to challenge for better life’ so the partnership with the Eye Van is an extremely fitting one for the brand,” said Lauren Pulitano, vice president, UD Trucks Australia.
“UD Trucks is part of Volvo Group Australia, Australia’s largest heavy vehicle manufacturer, who have been partners with the Eye Van since its inception in 2013, providing a vehicle for their mission for the past 10 years. A UD Truck has been supplied for the Eye Clinic to utilise since 2019.”
“The Quon GK 4×2 is one of the safest and most comfortable trucks in its class. UD actually stands for ultimate dependability, so the reliability of the Quon makes it the ideal truck to tackle the harsh terrain and reach patients in remote rural communities,” Pulitano added.
Diabetes and glucose intolerance affects 50 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander adults who live in rural and remote communities. One in three will experience vision loss which is preventable or treatable in 94 per cent of cases when diagnosed in the early stages.
Some of these conditions require treatment every eight weeks to prevent vision loss – this is challenging particularly with the elderly who, in many cases, aren’t able to leave their community to get the required care.
A well-known Aboriginal artist, Venus Rabbit, had significant eye problems but attended the Eye Van and subsequently was treated for cataracts. “Now I can paint in colours,” she said.
The team behind the initiative who head out to rural committees every 8-12 weeks includes:
- Founder of the Eye Van, Lyndall De Marco, St John Ambulance’s general manager of ophthalmology programs.
- Dr Rowan Porter, who has been the ophthalmologist on the truck since 2014 as well as the designer of the inside of the vehicle and the clinical advisor to the Eye Van.
- Mark Morrissey, who has been the driver/van operator since 2014.
De Marco said it is great to have the Eye Van back out helping indigenous communities after being severely impacted by Covid.
“The Eye Van was impacted through Covid when the indigenous communities closed to prevent transmission. During that time the Eye Van was utilised by rural hospitals to run outpatients Ophthalmic Clinics bringing much needed treatment to Central Queensland,” she said.
“Now the indigenous clinics are resuming and so it is great to have it back out on the road, bringing world-class facilities to rural and remote communities preventing avoidable blindness.”
Since the first clinic in 2013, the St John’s Ambulance Eye Van has travelled 600,000 kilometres around rural and remote Queensland and country Victoria.