A quarter of a century is a significant milestone and The Fred Hollows Foundation has certainly made its mark on the world. They’ve trained thousands of people to be eye nurses, doctors and surgeons, built social enterprises and quite literally given countless people a new lens through which to live their life.
We spoke to chair of the NZ Fred Hollows Foundation, Craig Fisher, who explained some of the compelling work that The Foundation is doing in the Pacific.
The eponymous eye surgeon behind the Fred Hollows Foundation dedicated his life to ending avoidable blindness. Although born and educated in New Zealand, Fred spent most of his adult life in Australia. Craig remarks that Fred is a bit like Pavlova, beloved equally by both countries who claim him. It stands to reason then that both countries have created Fred Hollows Foundations that work collaboratively and share a common goal of eliminating avoidable blindness but have respective individual responsibilities.
The Fred Hollows Foundation New Zealand works in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste and the Australia Foundation looks after the rest of the world. The Foundation’s principal aims are restoring sight, training doctors and nurses, strengthening health systems and driving innovation and research.
The flow on effect
Four out of five blind people in the world are needlessly blind. That’s a pretty confronting statistic. But Craig says what is even more horrible is the flow on effect. He says “think about how important your eyesight is. When you can’t see a whole lot of your life stops”. But it doesn’t just stop for the person who lost their vision. Craig uses the example of a grandmother who has gone blind due to cataracts. The repercussion of this is that a child will not go to school because they’ll be nominated to look after grandma and help her. They’ll miss out on an education. And two people end up victims.
The most heartbreaking thing is that simple surgeries or drugs could stop four out of five people suffering. But in developing countries, healthcare is a luxury most cannot afford. That’s why the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ is creating a sustainable system to improve access to eyecare.
Teach a man to fish
The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ exists on the basic principal that they don’t want to exist. It seems incongruent to want a charity to disappear, but Craig explains that it’s all about instilling sustainability.They don’t want to be feeding a problem forever, they actually want to fix it. They train local people “in the Pacific, from the Pacific, for the Pacific” so that they will be able to provide their community with high quality eye care. It creates a sustainable model, as Fred Hollows put it “teach the teachers first, then the teachers can teach others.”
Craig explains their “clinic in Honiara, Solomon Islands is the jewel in our crown. It’s completely staffed by people who’ve been trained through The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. It’s a living breathing case study of teaching people how to fish. And now they’re teaching more people how to fish.”
Innovation has always been at the epicentre of both Fred and The Foundation’s work. One of the biggest issues with cataracts was the cost of the lens. The lenses used to be $200 (USD). So, Fred invented the intraocular lens and created a social enterprise by building factories in Nepal and Eritrea that could create the intraocular lens for $5.
The Foundation has continued in this innovative vein and has recently created a mobile eyeclinic for some of the more remote areas in the Pacific. Working with Action Motorbodies, they created the biggest eye clinic that could be taken on a truck. Remarkably, the eye clinic was even up and running within a week of a cyclone that hit Fiji.
Trials and tribulations
Craig explains that working in the Pacific has it’s challenges and among those are the disparities in facilities. Especially in undeveloped areas where banking and paying people has been extremely difficult. However, Craig said that “getting our administration team onto Xero was a huge success story. All of a sudden our accounting team in NZ for the first time had visibility of what’s going on.”
Another challenge they’ve encountered is that some remote areas don’t have any facilities whatsoever and they have to send outreach teams. Unfortunately, The Foundation’s latest and most difficult challenge is the alarmingly high diabetes rate with eight countries in the Pacific among the 10 worst in the world. Unfortunately, one of the side affects of diabetes for a lot of people is blindness. This will be an ongoing crusade, but Craig is positive that with continued efforts and advances in technology they will be able to combat it.
A worthy cause
Craig got involved with The Foundation because of his own eye condition. He recognised that while he had access to affordable high quality eye care others were not so lucky. He’s a passionate advocate for The Foundation and explains that “it’s a great practical cause. It’s life changing. If you give someone their eyesight back, it’s humbling. The joy on their faces is extraordinary. But what goes with that is what they can do again and what they can get involved in. People who were feeling marginalised and not worthy anymore all of sudden have a whole new lease of life. And that’s huge.”
Giving someone their sight back is a profound gift and if you’d like to find out more about how you can contribute visit The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. You can also use their Impact Calculator to get an idea of what a donation could achieve.
Finally, we’d like to congratulate The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ on everything they’ve achieved in the past 25 years!