20 years since Fred Hollows received Human Rights Medal

Fred first visited isolated New South Wales towns and stations and Aboriginal communities in Australia in the 1960s and was shocked by the deplorable standards of eye health.

"It was like something out of the medical history books," he said, "eye diseases of a kind and degree that hadn't been seen in western society for generations! The neglect this implied, the suffering and wasted quality of human life were appalling."

He became especially concerned with the high number of Aborigines who had eye defects, particularly trachoma.

In the 1970s Fred began his work with Aboriginal communities in Australia.

He helped establish the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, Sydney, in 1971 and was instrumental in the establishment of other Aboriginal Medical Services throughout Australia.

During this time, Fred also dedicated three years to visiting Indigenous communities in rural Australia with a team of colleagues to survey and provide eye care services.

The results were published and in the late 1970's, with funding from the Australian Government and The Royal Australian and New Zealand college of Ophthalmologists, the ground-breaking The National Trachoma and Eye Health Program (NTEHP) was commenced.

The NTEHP set out to eliminate trachoma and other eye conditions in rural and remote communities and, for the first time, record the status of eye health in rural Australia.

From 1976-1978, over 465 communities were visited, 100,000 people screened, 27,000 people treated for trachoma and 1,000 operations performed. As a result of the program, Fred Hollows championed the treatment of trachoma and other eye diseases, which were prevalent among Aboriginal people.

Fred received many awards that recognised his dedication and determination.

In 1981, Fred received an Advance Australia Award, but was appalled at what he called blatant government disinterest in eye care for Aboriginal people, so refused to accept the Order of Australia. Nonetheless, he became an Australian citizen in 1989.

In 1990, Fred was given a Human Rights Medal and named Australian of the Year, and awarded Humanist of the Year in 1991.

In further recognition of Fred's 'outstanding contribution and achievement' to Indigenous health in Australia, in mid 2004, Fred Hollows was entered into the 'Hall of Fame' the inaugural New South Wales Aboriginal Health Awards. Gabi Hollows received the award on his behalf.
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