Fred wanted trachoma eradicated from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. He wanted Australians to take notice of the appalling living conditions, the lack of access to basic health needs and sanitation people in their own country experienced. So over the course of two years, Fred and his team undertook a momentous and vital task: the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program.

Fred, Gabi and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

In 1975, Fred and some Health Department workers approached the government for funding and formed the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. The government provided $1.4 million and the aim of the program was to:

  • Eliminate trachoma in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Raise awareness of eye health issues among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
  • Screen, diagnose and treat eye diseases in remote areas
  • Establish ongoing eye care programs and training in rural Australia 

The National Trachoma and Eye Health Program involved Fred, Gabi and several specialist teams travelling around Australia in 4 wheel drives. The aim was to examine and treat as many people as possible in remote and rural Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, including the Torres Strait Islands. Key to the program was the involvement of Aboriginal people like Jilpia Jones, Gordon Briscoe, Trevor Buzzacott, Rose Murray and Reg Murray who travelled with the teams and worked tirelessly to help bring eye health care to a great many people.

Much of the program’s success was due to community engagement and involvement in its implementation. Each team employed an Aboriginal liaison officer to visit communities and talk them through the program. Fred believed this was vital, and it was. Positive word about The Program spread between communities. The teams were welcomed because it was understood that, unlike previous experiences with medical professionals, the team was genuinely there to help. 

There must be active community involvement, using the community’s own structures, in every aspect of disease control programs…and have a real say in the direction of any activities.
- Fred Hollows

The results

Over the course of two years, the teams screened more than 100,000 people in 465 communities, performed 1,000 operations, treated 27,000 people for trachoma and delivered 10,000 pairs of individually prescribed glasses. The National Trachoma Program was a huge success; never before had such a large-scale system to provide specialist services been achieved.