Professor Fred C. Hollows AC was born on 9 April, 1929 in New Zealand to a tolerant Christian socialist family. After a brief stint in the seminary, Hollows realised that he wasn't cut out to be a man of the cloth. He left organised religion for medicine, specialising in opthamology. Around this time he joined the New Zealand Communist Party, counting North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap among his heroes.
Postgraduate studies sent Hollows abroad to Wales, but after several years he returned to the southern hemisphere in 1965 to become Associate Professor of Opthalmology of the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
After a visit to the Northern Territory in the late 1960s, Hollows became appalled at the high rate of curable eye diseases amongst the Koori population. He established the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern in 1971 and, after that, Aboriginal Medical Services throughout Australia. He initiated the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program, which was sponsored by the Royal Australian College of Opthalmologists and the Australian Government. As a direct result of Hollow's efforts the number of indigenous people suffering curable blindness was been halved. His efforts drew increasing political attention.
Hollows always saw health care as a political imperative, and often argued that social and economic conditions had as much impact on people's health as diet and medical services. In the late 1980s he took his activism abroad. At least 20 million people in the third world are blind because of cataracts. Yet these opacities in the eye's lens can often be cured by inserting a new, synthetic lens in a 15-minute operation. Hollows trained doctors in Nepal, Vietnam and Eritrea to insert intraocular lenses. His humanitairian work earned Hollows the title of Australian of the Year in 1990.
Fred was an odd candidate for national acclaim. He swore and drank and refused to stop smoking his pipe at work. Gruff and often tactless, he made enemies with his directness, impatience and fierce temper. But under the rough demeanor lay intelligence, generosity and magnetism. He could decry capitalism to groups of businessmen and still empty their coffers of thousands of dollars in donations.
From 1990 to 1992, Professor Hollows gathered the necessary capital to build an intraocular lens factory in Asmara, Eritrea. Such a factory had already been tested in Australia, and Fred was keen to export the means of production abroad. After suffering persistent headaches, Fred was diagnosed with cancer. It had already spread to his kidneys, lungs, and brain.
He died on 10 February 1993 after a short and valiant battle without seeing his vision fructify in Eritrea.
The Fred Hollows Foundation was officially opened on 20 January 1994 in Asmara by the president of Eritrea, I Afeworki, Australian minister of foreign affairs, Gareth Evans, and Fred's wife, Gabi Hollows with her children. The intraocular lens factory produces an estimated 60,000 lenses per year, servicing the 30,000 Eritrean cataract patients per year and others across Africa. Fred's legacy lives on with the Foundation, who continue to save millions from preventable blindness across the world.
Any budding Everything opthamologists looking to do something more selfless than noding, see www.hollows.org for details