The Fred Hollows Foundation has committed the largest financial investment dedicated to closing the gap in Australian eye health.

First Australians are three times more likely to develop blindness and 12 times more likely to have cataracts – the leading cause of blindness.

Launching their Indigenous Australia Program Five Year Country Strategy on the organisations 27th anniversary, the Foundation aims to inject at least $40 million into bettering the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Fred Hollows Foundation Indigenous Australia Program Manager, Shaun Tatipata said although the organisation has worked towards eye health equity in the last decade there is still more progress to make.

“Ultimately what we are striving to achieve is … to close the gap in eye health for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people. In doing that we aim to lay the foundations for us as a nation to move towards excellence in eye care,” Mr Tatipata said.

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Five Year Country Strategy centres around five main goals, which include:

  • Ensuring effective cataract treatment and refractive error prevention and treatment is available to all First Nations people
  • Eliminating Trachoma in Australia – an infectious disease which can result in blindness
  • Rolling out accessible, effective and time-sensitive treatment for diabetic retinopathy for all First Australians.

The program will begin its wrap up in 2024.

“What does success look like in 2024? Markers of success for us is around achieving parity, and empowering and supporting Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to deliver their own eye health services,” Mr Tatipata said.

“We also hope to establish pathways into eye care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Our representation within eye care professions is important and we are working with all sorts of partners to make sure those pathways are there and those opportunities are given.”

The project will also work in parallel with the Strong Eyes, Strong Communities plan developed by Vision 2020 Australia and promote governments to adopt the plan nationally.

“This strategy aligns with Strong Eyes, Strong Community, which will allow us to scale up the necessary services to meet population needs,” Mr Tatipata said.

“The strategy tries to ensure the closing of that gap by adopting those recommendations from the Strong Eyes, Strong Communities plan and it lays that foundation to ensure local capacity is strengthened so that gap doesn’t reopen in the future.”

The strategy aligns directly with the goals and vision of founder, Fred Hollows.

“Fred was a champion, a lot of his work was all about supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to succeed in health and to address the social justice issues he witnessed,” Mr Tatipata said.

“A big part of this approach is drawing from the way Fred approached it back in the day – he knew the only way to deliver high quality, culturally appropriate eye care in communities was to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were involved in the delivery.”

The Fred Hollows Foundation CEO, Ian Wishart said that the innovative spirit of Mr Hollows lives within the new strategy.

“Empowerment is at the heart of what we do, and today is about empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by giving their eye health an ambitious way forward,” Mr Wishart said.

The launch was hosted by Redfern’s Aboriginal Medical Service, an organisation which received donated resources from Mr Hollows when first established.

Guests included Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Founding Director of the Foundation, Gabi Hollows AO.

Mr Tatipata hopes to extend thanks to those assisting the development and delivery of the strategy.

“There was a lot of love in the room – to take it back to the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, it made it that extra bit special,” Mr Tatipata said.

“We want to thank the Australian Government and our partners for supporting our work and we ask that they join in our efforts to close the gap on eye health for good.”

More information on The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program Five Year Country Strategy can be accessed here:

By Rachael Knowles