With World Sight Day coming up on October 14, The Fred Hollows Foundation hopes to raise global awareness about eye health and funds for the Double Your Impact campaign. The foundation was first started by Australian ophthalmologist Professor Fred Hollows 29 years ago and has become one of the leading organisations for international eye health development. The foundation is on a mission to bring sustainable change to eye health care by strengthening the local eye health workforce and giving communities the chance to help themselves. 

As the Chief Representative of The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Hong Kong and ASEAN headquarters, Laura Lee is passionate about bringing more attention to eye health across the city and globally. 

With a background in international human rights law and a career trajectory that spans from Malaysia and Thailand to Hong Kong and South Korea, Lee has over a decade of experience as a humanitarian aid worker and business development professional. Since joining the foundation in 2018, Lee has been an active voice for females affected by the gender gap in healthcare. 

“The Foundation places women and girls at the centre of our programming. Of the 1.1 billion people with vision loss, 55 percent are women and most live in low and middle-income countries.” Due to gender imbalance in many communities, men control the family finances and their medical needs are prioritised. Girls often have to leave school to care for their relatives who have gone blind, missing out on education, they often become stuck in poverty as adults themselves – and so do their children. 

Through the community-based outreach service, The Fred Hollows Foundation is reaching out to women in remote and rural villages where eye disease remains largely undiagnosed and untreated. “We are training women to become eye doctors, health workers and eye health professionals. One of the best long-term ways to encourage women to visit hospitals and eye clinics is for there to be more female faces working in the health system.”  

While eye health is a serious issue in rural countries, it is also an issue right here in Hong Kong, with the city having some of the highest myopia rates in the world, affecting more than 40 percent of school children at the age of eight. “With a lot of students attending classes in front of the screen, a recent study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows a 2.5-fold increase in myopia in children during the pandemic.” 

“We are so fortunate to live in a city where we have high-quality medical services. Eye services are always in reach and we don’t need to travel far to access them.” Lee advises Hongkongers to book an eye check for themselves and loved ones every two years, take regular breaks from screens, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration in their eyes. To lower the risk of myopia in children, the most effective way is to play outdoors for one to two hours everyday. 

The article was originally published in Hong Kong Living