As the world struggles to contain the health, economic and human impact of COVID-19, The Fred Hollows Foundation calls for clear coordination under the World Health Organization, continued care for those needing essential eye care services and ensuring people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged are not left behind. Read our statement here.


The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health and economic crisis of unparalleled scale being felt in every corner of the globe. With national health systems struggling to provide care to those in need and the livelihoods and wellbeing of billions of people at risk, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged are likely to be among those hit hardest.

The Fred Hollows Foundation is an international development organisation working to achieve a world where no one is needlessly blind or vision impaired. Strengthening health systems in disadvantaged communities across 25 countries, The Foundation is working tirelessly to support governments, local implementing partners and the community during this global health crisis.

This statement sets out The Foundation’s public position on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been informed by emerging evidence and direction from the World Health Organisation, eye health professional bodies and internal program guidance. It will be updated and regularly reviewed as this crisis evolves.

Our Position:

1. The World Health Organization must be empowered to coordinate the global response

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented global health, economic and human crisis requiring a collaborative and coordinated response from across all sectors of society; multilateral institutions, government, non-government, private, community and individuals alike. The Foundation calls on world leaders to continue to work with the World Health Organization and other United Nations bodies in coordinating the global response and to work with the non-government sector to maximise response efforts around the world.

2. Continuing aid to low- and middle-income countries is essential

The economic, social and health impacts of COVID-19 will be most severe among low- and middle-income countries, pushing more people into poverty and threatening the recovery to global health security and the long-term strategic importance of minimising its impact on sustainable development. The Foundation calls on governments and other donors to show leadership in maintaining, and where possible increasing, financial aid and assistance to low- and middle-income countries throughout the crisis and into the recovery period.

3. The eye health sector can help combat COVID-19

The Foundation as a public health international development organisation, is well positioned to play an important role in supporting its implementing partners respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and using its international standing to support greater coordination of effort across the eye health sector. As guided by local and international authorities, and where permitted to do so, The Foundation will assist governments and the communities in the countries in which we work to respond to COVID-19 and will share our learnings with others to help improve coordination efforts. Activities will be consistent with our eye health objectsi.

4. Essential eye care services must continue to be provided to uphold the right to sight

Delivering ‘essential services’ii in eye care during the COVID-19 crisis is critical to upholding the human right to health care, as well as enabling individuals and communities to respond to changing social and economic conditions and to ensuring communities recover more effectively. Consistent with local COVID-19 response regulations, social distancing, infection control protocols and advice from ophthalmic professional bodies, ‘essential ophthalmic services’ and assessments of vision related symptoms in primary care should continue to be provided wherever possible. Cataract surgery is one area that can help lead the way to recovery, with

increased quality and safety for both patients and ophthalmic health care workers. Where safe and appropriate, The Foundation will continue to support implementing partners to deliver eye health programs and sight saving interventions to local communities.

5. Vulnerable and disadvantaged groups must not be left behind

As the world responds to the pandemic and governments seek to maximise health and economic utility for their populations, every step must be taken to ensure people who are vulnerable or otherwise disadvantaged have equitable access to COVID-19 health and economic response measures. While current available data suggests men are likely more at risk of chronic illness and death from COVID-19 than women, it is important to highlight the unequal impact COVID-19 is likely to have on women who make up the majority of health and care workers across all countries. Older people, people living with disability, including people who are blind or vision impaired, people living in low-income settings and in rural and remote locations, are at greater risk of falling between the cracks and deliberate actions must be taken to ensure they are not left behind.

What We Are Doing:

Guided by Ministries of Health and local authorities, The Foundation is responding to identified needs and opportunities to contribute to local COVID-19 responses, including redirecting resources and expertise in program implementation, community engagement, health promotion, advocacy, and health system strengthening. Where possible, safe and appropriate The Foundation is:

A) Assisting partner eye health services to become 'COVID-19 ready', to ensure risks to staff and patients of SARSCoV-2 infection are minimised;

B) Contributing to establishing and strengthening global and country-level COVID-19 response coordination, planning and monitoring efforts, including support for frontline COVID-19 responses.

Given areas where The Foundation supports eye health care delivery may move rapidly between transmission scenarios, planned program activities will likely experience significant disruption. The Foundation is:

A) Actively and regularly reviewing and adjusting project plans and targets in light of changing circumstances;

B) Supporting the continuation of essential eye health services where it is possible and safe to do so, particularly emergency treatment to prevent vision loss and blindness, time sensitive interventions, and treatments determined by clinicians as urgent or in the best interests of the patient;

C) Supporting the continuation and appropriate expansion of telehealth services; and

D) Prioritising the safety of our patients, communities and eye health workers, as well as our staff.

This public position statement will be reviewed and updated as circumstances change with The Foundation monitoring and responding to advice from relevant authorities.

“Real Humanity is shown when we care for others”
                                                                                                                             Prof Fred Hollows


Brandon Ah Tong, Head of Public Policy and Advocacy, [email protected] 

i Activities will be subject to an assessment against The Foundation’s constitutional objectives and regulatory parameters in the countries in which we operate and any contractual obligations set by donor bodies.

ii ‘Essential services’ in eye care are defined by professional bodies in ophthalmic care, such as the international College of Ophthalmology, the World Council of Optometry and national associations, in conjunction with local regulatory bodies.