The Founder of The Fred Hollows Foundation, Prof. 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, and will always, be at the heart of our work.
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 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.
The last lesson
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 for ophthalmology in Vietnam. That figure of 1,000 cataract operations has now multiplied to 160,000 each year – all thanks to what Fred started.
Building a local health force
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
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.
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. Performing initial consultations like these is 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.
As part of The Foundation’s work, we help train ophthalmologists so there are more specialists ready to help 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 and who are working tirelessly to improve the 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 in: train one surgeon and they’ll train hundreds more.
Between 2003 and 2021, The Fred Hollows Foundation has achieved the following in training:
- trained 3520 surgeons
- trained 9638 clinic workers, including eye health nurses and technicians
- trained 396,018 community health workers
- trained 60,987 teachers
Making things happen
While training is paramount, part of our work is also looking at a country’s infrastructure needs. This ranges from building and upgrading eye health facilities, to ensuring vital equipment and technology is in place, or even looking more broadly at national health systems. From educating community leaders to establishing village health centres; building regional hospitals to creating national ophthalmological networks – all the work we do has one aim: to help build an independent and sustainable system of eye health worldwide.