In June, Dr Cam Hollows, son of Professor Fred Hollows and Gabi Hollows, visited Hong Kong for the first time and sat down with us to discuss his life and his father. As a GP based in regional Australia, Cam grew up with people who continued Fred’s work. He is inspired by his parents and his father’s dream of ending avoidable blindness. Cam remains closely involved with The Fred Hollows Foundation.
Could you please tell us about The Fred Hollows Foundation?
My father was an eye surgeon and he worked in Asia, Africa and Australia to help people with blindness that could be surgically cured. Before he died, we set up a Foundation to respect his memory and to make sure his work would go on. It has gone on for the past 30 years and we’ve helped many people across the world to regain their sight.
What impact has The Fred Hollows Foundation had on global eye health and what are its future goals for addressing eye health needs worldwide?
Over the past 30 years, The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working for people who are needlessly blind. 9 out of 10 people who are blind do not have to be and can often have their sight restored through a very simple sight-saving surgery. Data and quality control is very important to The Foundation and for the past 30 years, we have performed over 3 million cataract surgeries. We have also prevented blindness through screening, refractive error correction to prevent people from going blind. We are doing incredibly important work.
We have contributed to strengthening health care systems across the globe, including training surgeons, nurses and eye health and village healthcare workers to help with primary eye care, prevention of diabetic disease, and to help with correcting refractive error. In the future, we know that eye health and global blindness is a key challenge, and it is a challenge we can beat. We know what it takes to fix blindness.
What is one thing that your father taught you that continues to inspire you today and influenced you to work in medicine?
My father was very famously quoted for saying that “the basic attribute of humankind is that we look after each other”. He was a doctor who restored sight, a champion for the disadvantaged, and an advocate who demanded better. To me, any work in medicine or any work as a doctor, a nurse or a carer is human-to-human contact. It’s not about money, it’s not about fame, it’s about looking after others. That’s what makes us different from anything else on the planet. Our first goal should be to look after one another.
As a young boy, I witnessed the birth of The Fred Hollows Foundation. I grew up surrounded by many of his friends and colleagues who were in medicine and I have been continually inspired by my father’s dream of ending avoidable blindness. My father also inspired me to fight for issues of health and social justice from a very young age. By becoming a doctor, I hope to make a positive impact on people like my dad did. I hope that I can inspire my own children to make their work to be looking after people.
Why was Asia so important to your father, Professor Fred Hollows?
Australia is part of Asia and many of his students came from South-East Asia, Hong Kong, Central Asia, Nepal, South Asia and India. Vietnam is one of the first places my father worked in. A year before his death, my father made a promise that would end up restoring sight to hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam. He was true to his word and returned to train ophthalmologists in modern eye surgery techniques so that local people would be empowered to help their own communities. At that time, there were only two eye surgeons in the whole country.
I was lucky to travel to Vietnam with my father and to see him training Vietnamese surgeons. I went back nearly 20 years later as a medical student and met some of the students my father trained. Some of them have done 40,000 or 50,000 surgeries curing blindness. It was an inspiring way to see my dad’s impact come full circle.
Can you share the most memorable story between you and your father?
I was lucky because my father made a very big point of taking us children, myself and my sisters, out into the Australian bush where we were able spend time looking at the trees and animals and swimming in the ocean. It was a very important part of my childhood to get outside with my father, to climb trees, to ride bikes and to be part of the outside world. And I’ve tried to do the same thing with my children.
As a father myself, as somebody who lost my father when he was too young, it’s that you must enjoy every day with your children. You must try to get them outside of their four walls, their screens and take them outside, climb a tree, ride a bike, go on a boat, go to the park, spend some time playing with your children to make sure they remember the happy times with their father.
Is there anything you would like to say to our supporters in Hong Kong?
I would like to thank our supporters in Hong Kong for their support of The Foundation. Your support allows us to be able to continue our sight-saving work in over 25 countries worldwide and restore sight to over 3 million people. Thank you for joining us on our journey to continue the legacy of my father's work and give more people the gift of sight!