Hollows team revisits Fred’s old stomping ground

The extraordinary work of the Fred Hollows Foundations continues unabated, with two major milestones being celebrated this year as the organisation continues its work across the back blocks of Australia.

It’s been 25 years since Fred Hollows was named Australian of the Year and 40 years since the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program (NTEHP) kick started the illustrious career of the man determined to eradicate Trachoma throughout Indigenous communities.

Last month, a number of Foundation leaders – including Fred’s widow Gabi – and those associated with the NTEHP went back to Dubbo and Bourke in western NSW to revisit the original communities where Fred’s work began all those years ago.

Australia’s first Indigenous eye doctor, Kristopher Rallah-Baker (pictured on the Team Hollows’ bus), was also on the trip, as was a number of leading ophthalmologists and health workers. Prominent Australian journalist Ray Martin was also there, the first chairman of the Fred Hollows Foundation, and a keen supporter.

In Bourke the party visited Fred’s grave – on the 23rd anniversary of his passing –  as well as the town’s hospital. They went on to the Dubbo Aboriginal Medical Service and took part in a local Yarning Circle.

They met many locals and health experts, some of whom had been around long enough to remember Fred and the extraordinary drive and commitment coming from him and his team back in the early days of the ground breaking program.

The Foundation often says that it was the local indigenous workers, community members and others who made the program so successful through tireless logistical work and service delivery on the ground, which enabled the doctors and nurses to properly carry out their important work.

Fred’s legacy lives on in so many areas but few people would know that there were just two Aboriginal controlled medical services when the NTEHP began. By the time it finished, there were 13. There are now hundreds across the country.

About 100,000 Australians have been screened for Trachoma, 62,000 of them Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who are six times more likely to be blind than non-Indigenous Australians.

Overall, the program treated about 27,000 people and performed more than 1000 operations, while uncovering the appalling statistic that almost one in two Indigenous Australians suffered from Trachoma, an entirely preventable disease. That rate often spiralled up to 80 percent in some remote communities across the NT and WA.

The Foundation remains committed to improving the health of Indigenous Australians, reinforcing the deep admiration all Australians have for the man whose legacy remains undiminished in the eyes of Indigenous people across the world.

Tony Barrass






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