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In 1968, Australian ophthalmologist Fred Hollows was in his Sydney eye clinic when two Aboriginal Elders presented with eye problems he’d never seen before. After treating the men, Hollows was invited to visit the camp where they lived – Wattie Creek – in the remote Northern Territory. He was shocked by what he saw: blinding trachoma, a disease he didn’t think existed in modern-day Australia.

Fred Hollows was more than an ophthalmologist. He was a social and political activist who believed that the basic attribute of mankind was to look after each other. He was a no-nonsense, larger-than-life character who embodied the Australian values that everyone deserved “a fair go.” It was these qualities that endeared him to the Australian public, and earned him the honor of “Australian of the Year” in 1990, three years before he passed away. To this day, almost 80 percent of Australians can still identify Fred Hollows, and the organization founded in his name remains one of the nation’s largest NGOs.

The Fred Hollows Foundation continues its sight-saving work in the areas where Hollows’ mix of medical outreach and advocacy started – in outback Australia, Vietnam, Nepal, and Eritrea. Over the past two decades, its scope has expanded rapidly, now extending to more than 25 countries. After seeing first hand the devastation of trachoma at Wattie Creek in 1968, Hollows gathered a team of eye health professionals and social activists, lobbied decision makers, raised money, and delivered the National Trachoma Program.

Orthoptist Gabi Hollows, Penny Luck and Fred Hollows during the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program at Christmas Creek in 1977. Photo credit: David Broadbent

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About the Author

Ian Wishart

CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation, Australia.

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