Fred Hollows believed in empowering people. That’s why we invest in training a range of people from community health workers to surgeons. Building local skills has always been, and will always be, at the heart of our work.

Fred's Legacy: teaching the teachers

Fred’s passion for teaching

Fred was an advocate of hands-on learning. He firmly believed there should always be three people in a room: a teacher, a student and a patient. Whether it was in an operating theatre in Sydney or in Hanoi, Fred took great delight in seeing the moment of understanding in his students’ eyes.

One of the great joys of my life is having been part of the training of Sanduk Ruit and his training others.
- Fred Hollows 

Fred could always see the bigger picture. He knew that his students would eventually become teachers themselves too. While a country might only have one ophthalmologist, soon enough it could have two, then ten.

Fred's last lesson: training over 300 eye specialists in Vietnam

Despite being very ill with cancer, Fred discharged himself from hospital in July 1992 to fly to Hanoi. There he wanted to fulfil his promise to train over 300 Vietnamese eye specialists in modern eye surgery techniques.
At that time only 1,000 cataract operations using intraocular lenses were performed each year in Vietnam. Students packed the operating theatre as Fred, who was too ill to perform the surgeries himself then, instructed his students with his usual enthusiasm, dedication and demand for perfection.

Today, these former students are continuing his work and leading the way in ophthalmology in Vietnam. That figure of 1,000 cataract operations has now multiplied to over 160,000 each year throughout the globe – all thanks to what Fred started.

Building a local health force

No matter where we work, our aim is to build local skills and public health capacity at every level. We train surgeons, doctors, nurses, healthcare and community workers to recognise, refer and treat eye problems.

What we’re doing is revolutionary, something big health organisations aren’t doing. They send eye doctors. What we are doing is giving these people the chance to help themselves. We are giving them independence.
- Fred Hollows


Doorstep diagnosis: the importance of community healthworkers

Community health workers are a vital link between patients and eye health services.

Trained by The Foundation, they visit communities, diagnosing a range of medical conditions and referring people to medical clinics, hospitals and doctors. Initial consultations like these are essential, because potentially damaging eye health issues are identified before they become critical.
In Kenya, these community health workers distribute antibiotics to prevent trachoma.

In Ethiopia, we train teachers who educate their students on how to prevent the spread of trachoma, such as washing their face to keep the disease at bay.

In Australia, health workers speak the local language of remote Indigenous communities. This dramatically increases the number of people who come for eye examinations and treatment.

Investing in people

As part of The Foundation’s work, we help train ophthalmologists so there are more specialists ready to tackle the many millions of cases of avoidable blindness. Dr Ciku Mathenge and Dr Ouk Soleaphy are two female surgeons trained by the Fred Hollows Foundation who are working tirelessly to improve eye health systems in their countries while helping to overcome gender barriers.
Empowering young ophthalmologists is very important to us, as it ties in directly with what Fred believed: train one surgeon and they’ll train hundreds more.

A look at our results from 2022: 

Globally, we trained over 53,133 people, including 105 eye surgeons, 352 clinic support staff, 34,603 community health workers and 16,332 teachers. 

  • In Cambodia, 310,025 school children received eye care health education 
  • In Pakistan, we provided 13,694 eye operations and treatments 
  • In Vietnam, 9,078 pairs of glasses were distributed  

Investing in equipment and technology

While training is paramount, part of our work is also looking at a country’s infrastructure needs. This includes:

  • building and upgrading eye health facilities;
  • ensuring vital equipment and technology is in place, or even looking more broadly at national health systems;
  • educating community leaders to establishing village health centres;
  • building regional hospitals;
  • creating national ophthalmological networks
All the work we do has one aim: to help build an independent and sustainable system of eye health worldwide.
A snapshot of our 2022 investment into equipment and technology: 
  • In Africa, we equipped 372 medical facilities 
  • In East Asia, we equipped 794 medical facilities 
  • In Ethiopia, we equipped 295 medical facilities 

A look at our Global Results from 2022: 

  • 516,402 eye operations and treatments performed 
  • 4,515,199 people treated with antibiotics for trachoma 
  • 3.9M people screened  
  • 53,133 people trained, including clinic support staff and educators 
  • 51,040 surgeons, community health workers and teachers trained 
  • 1,201 medical facilities built, renovated or equipped 
  • 2.5M+ school children and community members educated in eye health and sanitation 
  • 141,789 pairs of glasses distributed