Outback hero: Fred Hollows Foundation
Hema Maps has an unwavering love of the Australian outback. While Hema is all about adventure and exploration, we all recognise that other organisations help make the outback a healthier, better place. We sat down with Alison Hill, Brand and Communications Director of the Fred Hollows Foundation, to discuss the worthy work this group does and the legacy of the incredible Fred Hollows.
Fred Hollows was committed to Closing the Gap. What programs does the Foundation run to aid this goal?
Our founder Fred Hollows had a fierce determination to improve the eye health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and this determination remains at the heart of our work in Australia. Through our Indigenous Australia Program, we work tirelessly to uphold the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so they can exercise their right to good eye health.
Our Indigenous Australia Program focuses on addressing the disparity in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians. Through community outreach programs to identify cataracts, trachoma and diabetic retinopathy we can find patients who are suffering from avoidable blindness and ensure they can access the help they need. We also support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers who provide culturally appropriate care.
The Foundation also uses our strong public voice to advocate for First Nations People’s right to self-determination and decision-making. Fred believed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership was vital to achieving equitable health outcomes.
What are the causes of preventable blindness?
The main reason people live with blindness is that they can’t access quality, affordable eye health care. In many cases, a straightforward 20-minute operation can restore sight, or a dose of antibiotics can prevent blindness.
Many barriers prevent people from accessing adequate eye care. These can be financial, cultural, gender, societal and family pressures or simply misinformation. But whatever the barrier, they prevent people from seeking or accessing help.
Our programs aim to address these barriers, to let people know some services can help them and ensure that no one is left behind.
The leading cause of blindness is cataracts, followed by uncorrected refractive error where people usually simply need glasses.
Has medical care in outback Australia improved since the Foundation began its work? Is there a clear need for further work in this area?
Medical care has undoubtedly improved in the outback but there is still an immense amount of work to be done.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are three times more likely to go blind than other Australians and experience a burden of disease 2.3 times the rate of the wider population. The prevalence of vision impairment among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is significantly higher in outer regional (21%) and very remote areas (18%), and blindness follows a similar pattern.
There is still a severe lack of services in remote communities and in central Australia, only one ophthalmologist is servicing an area the size of Spain. We must continue building and strengthening existing health systems so that everyone can access the services they need and exercise their right to good eye health.
Australia is also the only developed country in the world to still have trachoma. It is unacceptable that a disease that can be prevented with a dose of antibiotics and good access to water is still prevalent in our remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
How do every day Australians contribute to eye care worldwide and in Australia?
Every day Australians make up the largest percentage of our donors and without them, none of our work would be possible. Every little bit helps, and no donation is too small.
In many places where we work, we can restore sight for as little as $25. It may seem like a small amount, but it can improve quality of life immeasurably and unlock someone’s potential. Some people choose to donate a small amount every month and this simple action ensures we can continue Fred’s vision of ending avoidable blindness.
The Foundation this year celebrates our 30th anniversary and we’ve now restored sight to more than 3 million people and prevented blindness for thousands more.
Fred’s Big Run ran in August. Is this your biggest individual fundraising event? When did the event begin?
Fred’s Big Run is our annual community fundraiser and one of our biggest fundraising drives of the year. It began in 2020 as a fun way for people to stay fit and active in COVID lockdowns while raising money to end avoidable blindness. Now that lockdowns are over people are still very keen to get involved.
Participants can join individually or as part of a team before nominating a number of kilometres to run or walk during the month of August.
Close to 6,000 people stepped up for Fred this year and raised almost $1.4 million. It’s thanks to people like this and their amazing efforts that we’re able to continue our sight-saving work.
The Sydney Harbour Hike took place in October 2022. How many were registered for this event?
Earlier this month we also held our inaugural Sydney Harbour Hike along Sydney’s beautiful coastline.
Participants could walk one of two tracks, starting from Manly or Bondi and ending at the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Close to 600 people joined this year, including members of the Hollows family, and raised over $149,000.
The new initiative – Freddy Bear
The Fred Hollows Foundation has launched Freddy Bear, a new charity bear to honour Fred Hollows’ legacy and raise funds.
Freddy Bear is modelled after Fred himself and comes dressed in doctor’s scrubs and glasses. Freddy Bear is being sold for $60 + postage and handling, with $25 from each sale going to restore sight to needlessly blind people around the world, including in Australia.
Fred’s daughter Rosa, who was three when her father died, said he would be immensely proud of the difference he has made and says the launch of the new Freddy Bear is a fitting way to raise funds for the foundation named after her dad.
“My dad Fred had great hope that we could make the world a better place, and through Freddy Bear, we want to pass on that dream to the next generation of kids all over Australia,” Rosa said. “Fred was often described as being a bit gruff but with a soft heart. I think he’d laugh that his likeness has been turned into a soft, cuddly bear! My son Louie will never know his granddad but now gets to cuddle the teddy bear version of him."
“We hope that Freddy Bear will be a cherished souvenir for kids, parents and families, reminding them of my dad’s incredible legacy and with Christmas coming up, we think Freddy Bear will make a perfect gift for someone you love while also helping to restore sight.”
1.1 billion people worldwide experience vision loss primarily because they do not have access to eye health services when they need them or where they need them.
People can purchase the Freddy Bear online.
People can donate here.
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