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Professor Fred C. Hollows AC was born on 9 April, 1929 in New Zealand and grew up in a tolerant Christian socialist family.He entered medical school after he discovered he was not cut out to be a clergyman. He worked as an alpine guide, an orderly in a psychiatric hospital, a bulldozer driver, sank bores in the back blocks of Queensland and decided to become an - eye doctor - a trade he described as good work.Post-graduate work among Welsh mining families gave him a practical, professional, compassionate and ethical basis for his work.
In the 1970s Fred Hollows pioneered the treatment of trachoma and other eye diseases prevalent among Australian Aboriginal, halving curable blindness amongst Aborigines.He helped establish the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern and was instrumental in the establishment of Aboriginal Medical Services throughout Australia.
Fred worked with the Department of Ophthalmology at The Prince of Wales Hospital for over 25 years. He worked as a consultant to the World Health Organization and visited many third world countries.He found highly motivated and efficient people in Nepal, Eritrea and Vietnam. When he found that people in these countries were doing a great deal with scarce resources, he decided to raise money and build intraocular lens factories with the dream of eliminating the backlog of cataract blindness.
Fred Hollows was an extraordinary man. He believed that everyone, everywhere, should have access to the best that modern medical knowledge can provide.Cataract blindness is a huge problem in many developing countries, but it can be cured with a relatively simple operation.Cataract surgery, using intraocular lenses,was always dismissed as being too expensive,and too difficult to perform in the developing world. An inferior treatment has traditionally been used.
- Over the last 25 years I have visited many third world countries. I found a highly motivated bunch of people in Eritrea.In Nepal I could not help getting involved when I saw how good the Nepalese were at using the meagre resources at their disposal.In Vietnam more than 130,000 people per year need cataract surgery.When I was there in April 1992 I saw almost 500 skilled and hardworking eye surgeons who could not restore sight because they did not have any intraocular lenses. The Foundation will build lens factories to go to three of the poorest countries on earth to reduce the backlog of cataract blind. This is very exciting work. The late Professor Fred .C. Hollows.
The Fred Hollows Foundation initially began working to give the people of Nepal, Eritrea, and Vietnam the skills,technology and equipment to produce the intraocular lenses used in cataract surgery in their own countries.Producing the lenses in these countries ensures a ready and affordable supply for their blindness-prevention programs.By exporting the lenses, the laboratories become self-sustaining and spread the benefits of the program by making the lenses affordable for many more poor and disadvantaged people in other countries.Equally as important as the building of manufacturing facilities for the production of affordable intraocular lenses is the training and equipping of local surgeons to conduct high-volume posterior-chamber intraocular lens cataract surgery.
Fundraising for the project in Eritrea had commenced in February 1990 with the assistance of the refugee aid agency, AUSTCARE. The Fred Hollows Foundation raises funds via the Australian and New Zealand public and the Australian Government, to administer projects already started by Professor Hollows and others initiated after his death.The Foundation will also continue to initiate new projects in keeping with the spirit of his unique vision of the world.
The Fred Hollows Intraocular Lens Laboratory in Eritrea utilizes dual lathes and is capable of producing 100 000 sight-restoring IOLs per year.The Fred Hollows IOL Laboratory in Nepal operates a single lathe system and is producing 60 000 IOLs per year. A third laboratory is planned for Vietnam.The success of The Foundations surgical training programs has seen requests from many more countries for assistance. In response to these requests The Foundation is now training doctors and providing them with the equipment required for modern cataract surgery in 19 countries across 3 continents.The Foundation extended its surgical training program to the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan in 1997,and it is currently negotiating with local organizations in Indonesia, China, and South Africa to determine the best approach for conducting surgical training programs in these countries.
In its first six years, The Foundation has helped restore sight to over 200,000 people,and trained over 400 doctors to perform modern cataract surgery.
Extract from a letter from Mike Lynskey, The Fred Hollows Foundation's Chief Executive (February 2004)
Fred Hollows’ social activism stirred the interest of the New Zealand secret police, so he moved to Sydney in 1965. Soon after, the organisers of an Aboriginal land rights meeting were astounded to find a cheque for 500 pounds amongst the donations. The cheque bore Fred Hollows’ signature. “Who was he?” someone asked. “He was a gruff looking guy in workers clothes”, someone recalled.
The mysterious Fred Hollows was tracked down to the eye clinic at the University of NSW. A few days later Fred flew to Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory. He returned with some Aboriginal elders, including famous land rights leader Vincent Lingiari, because they had serious eye problems. Thus began the long association of Fred and Gabi Hollows with Indigenous Australians.
In the late 1970’s Fred led the National Aboriginal Trachoma and Eye Health program. A team of 80 ophthalmologists, Indigenous advisers and back-up staff visited hundreds of Aboriginal communities across Australia, checking and treating the eyes of over 100,000 patients.
The more Fred saw of the appalling health of Indigenous people, the angrier he became. “If animals were treated like this they would call in the RSPCA,” he said. Fred tackled federal and state governments as he campaigned for an improvement in Indigenous health. He put Indigenous health on the public agenda.
Fred was an eye doctor, but he recognised that Indigenous health problems involved more than just eye health. Fred often wrote and spoke about land rights, community control, nutrition, adequate housing, ‘health hardware’ (fresh running water, sewage etc), education, employment and economic independence.
I know that Fred would be just as angry at the state of Indigenous health if he were still alive today. That’s why we employed an Aboriginal woman, Olga Havnen to help us work directly with Aboriginal people to try and find some creative new solutions to some of these broader health issues..
When Olga started with The Foundation in 1999 she discovered what has since been described as a new “health emergency” in the remote Jawoyn communities east of Katherine. There the average life expectancy is 46 years. Diabetes is a major problem – affecting one in every 2 adults. Many people suffer from more than one chronic disease with the result that there are very few people over 50 years of age.
In fact, 40% of the community is aged under 15. Because of poor living conditions and overcrowding, many of these children suffer constant infections, such as totally preventable middle ear infections that cause hearing damage and loss in up to 93% of the children. Literacy levels are as low as 7%.
“What struck me about these communities was that they are totally lacking in things that ordinary Australians take for granted,” said Olga. “Things like pre schools, a decent shop, access to health care services. Remarkably, there is not one Aboriginal community in this country that even has a chemist shop”.
It was Olga’s belief that the only way to tackle some of these health issues was to get back to the basics – such as improving the birthweight of babies, improving the health and wellbeing of young children and making sure they are healthy when they go to school.
But perhaps most importantly, Olga recognised the need to tackle the issues that Aboriginal people had identified as being priorities. That’s why our current program is centered around nutrition, store management, financial literacy, education and literacy – the issues the Jawoyn asked us to work on to help gain long term improvements in health.
A first important step was to hire a nutritionist to work with families, based full time in these remote communities – a first in Australia. Another was to work with people to improve store management – to make sure that healthy nutritious food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, is available in the communities.
Training and employment are also critical issues and after just 12 months, Caroline Wurrben is now employed full time as the manager of the Wugularr (Beswick) store. This is largely due to the support of Woolworths which seconded experienced store manager Barry Orr to The Foundation for 12 months to work as mentor and adviser to local people and the stores committee.
With Barry’s support the store has gone from debt to profitable trading, employing indigenous staff, and making a profit which will be used for improving community facilities. Refrigerated display units are packed for the first time with fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. The whole community has benefited. It has regained control. People have regained confidence and hope.
Our work with the Jawoyn people has been done solely with the support of our supporters- and I’m certain that Fred would be very pleased to know that his Foundation is helping Indigenous people not far from Wattie Creek, where he had his first encounters with Vincent Lingiari and his people.
There is still a long way to go before we achieve Fred’s first dream of a land where Indigenous Australians have access to the same health outcomes as other Australians. But we are confident that by walking together and working together; we can help to create a new era in Indigenous health.
Please support us in our work to finding new ways to improve the health of Indigenous Australians. Your help will help us to fulfill Fred’s first dream – to support Indigenous Australians to live a healthier life as well as to support unnecessarily blind people in developing countries? Real progress is underway. Please help us to continue this work.
Yours sincerely
Mike Lynskey.Chief Executive.
by The Fred Hollows Foundation

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