It happened, like a lot of good ideas, over a morning coffee. Fiona Stokes, the trachoma program officer for The Fred Hollows Foundation in Alice Springs, was talking to health promotion colleagues about the fact that trachoma was still prevalent in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Also at the table in the café that day was a visual artist, Amanda McMillian. They started discussing an illustrated book that would help tackle the problem, by highlighting the importance of health and hygiene.
It would be available at schools, child care centres and community centres, and translated into Warlpiri and Anjatjirra to make it as accessible as possible.
The result of that conversation, Anngang Anitjakarta (Trachoma Sore Eyes Story), was launched in Ti Tree, about 200 kilometres north of Alice Springs.
Using hand drawn images and easy to learn messages the book’s aim is to help children understand how to avoid contracting the debilitating disease that can cause blindness.
Written by Hazel Presley, and illustrated by women elders in Ti Tree, it tells the story of a little boy who had to stop playing football because his eyes were sore. After his mother takes him to a clinic, he is given medicine, learns how to wash his face, and goes on to live a healthy life – including endless games of football.
“The big problem is a lot of people aren’t even aware of trachoma in the first place and what causes it,” said Fiona.
“We thought if we did this ourselves, the reader might relate to it more,’’ she said. “We thought it would have more meaning if it comes from someone within the community.”
“If this prevents kids from going blind from a horrible disease later in life, then we will be very happy with the results.”
Australia is the only developed country to still have trachoma. The disease is endemic in remote areas where a lack of access to water and mobile populations result in continual re-infection.
The Northern Territory Government is successfully tackling the disease with the help of The Foundation’s Community Based Workers. The incidence of the disease is rapidly falling, with figures showing it has dropped from 14 per cent of children in 2009, to four per cent last year.
Singer songwriter Shellie Morris, an Ambassador for The Fred Hollows Foundation, and the Melbourne Football Club also attended the launch.
To buy copies of the book ring Fiona Stokes on 08 89 536 448.