A world in which no person is needlessly blind or vision impaired.
We work to end avoidable blindness and vision impairment in the Pacific.
We advocate for the right of all people to high-quality and affordable eye care.
We strive for eye care to be locally-led and accessible to all. In doing this we continue Fred’s legacy.
When I look at what Team Fred has achieved in 2021, all I can say is how incredibly proud I am of everyone in the organisation. In a year that again presented global challenges, our team rose above and pushed closer to our goal of working to end avoidable blindness and vision impairment in the Pacific. Despite the COVID-19 disruptions, in 2021 Team Fred reached the remarkable milestone of performing over one million consultations throughout the Pacific since we began working in the region - an extraordinary feat which has far-reaching consequences for the overall eye health of the region. Yet there is still more to do.
I would like to take a moment to talk about the work our team has been doing in Papua New Guinea (PNG). With the highest rate of blindness and low-vision in the Pacific, it is a strong focus for The Foundation moving forward, and in 2021 some impressive progress was made. An important milestone was achieved when an agreement was signed to commence the development of a proposed Centre of Excellence for Eye Health - a facility that will train eye specialists and provide enhanced eye care services. The signing was attended by key partners including PNG and NZ government representatives and the PNG National Department of Health. Work then progressed to design the facility, with an agreed concept design completed by the end of the year.
Also during 2021, our team commenced working with the PNG Government, eye health partners and stakeholders throughout PNG to support the development of a long-term roadmap for eye care. This process will inform the further strengthening of the eye care sector in PNG over the next 10-20 years in order to address the country's significant levels of avoidable blindness and vision impairment.
Leading this work, and all The Foundation's work throughout the Pacific, was Dr Audrey Aumua in her first year as Chief Executive Officer of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. Dr Aumua has successfully cemented her position in many ways, including deepening and broadening relationships across the Pacific and working on a new strategy to effectively guide Team Fred in taking the next crucial steps in delivering eye care in the Pacific.
On behalf of all of Team Fred I would especially like to acknowledge and thank two of my fellow trustees who have recently left The Foundation's Board. Long-serving trustee, Debbie Sorensen, who had been on the Board since 2012, and Professor Charles McGhee who joined in 2019. Both trustees selflessly shared their skills and wealth of knowledge, providing an invaluable contribution to the direction of The Foundation. I am also delighted that we have welcomed onto our Board Meg Poutasi, Chief of Strategy at Auckland District Health Board, who also brings with her a vast array of valuable experience.
Finally, I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to all those who support us at The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ to enable us to do our mahi. Your support is truly appreciated. It is also making a positive difference.
As I reflect on the events of 2021 and my first year of serving Team Fred, I cannot help but feel an immense sense of pride in the determination and resilience of the team and our community of supporters, partners, government representatives, universities, departments and ministries of health, and the health workforce.
While managing lockdowns, weather events and the omnipresent threat of COVID-19, with your support our Pacific teams continued to deliver outreaches to remote communities and found innovative ways of helping those with urgent eye care needs, despite necessary restrictions and surgical space being redeployed to help with the COVID-19 response. Our teams also focused on a growing area of work - eye care education - with ophthalmic staff joining telemedicine programmes and community education events to help slow the growth in preventable eye conditions.
Our Pacific neighbours though are reeling from the financial and economic impacts of over two years without tourism and labour movement, alongside the growing burden of the COVID-19 response and mitigating climate change impacts that continue to increase in magnitude. These factors have affected us too with COVID-19 lockdowns, shipping disruptions and a second year of closed borders meaning that planned outreaches, surgeries and programmes have been deferred. Thousands of individuals, families and communities are still awaiting sight-saving treatment.
Along with daily responsibilities, eye care teams across the Pacific region are working harder and smarter to get eye care to those who need it. It won’t be easy. That is why, with your help, we will be working harder too to help our Pacific neighbours rebuild and, in particular, increase our support to government health systems through our Future Fred strategic approach.
We have reallocated planned 2021 spend towards doubling down on outreaches and surgeries, training more eye doctors and nurses, and supporting the hardworking eye care workforce across the Pacific region with mentoring and equipment to help them meet the ever-increasing need. We will also work alongside Pacific governments to ensure that delivering eye care remains a key systems and policy consideration within the post COVID-19 rebuild.
It’s not until you’re under pressure that you understand the strength and resilience of a team. A team of which you are a valued member. The challenges have not ceased; however, I move forward with absolute assurance that we have the right team and capability to continue Fred’s legacy through the most difficult of times. If we can do that, we are well poised for supporting our partners during this difficult time.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of a passionate member of Team Fred – Eileen Tugum, our much-loved PNG Country Manager. Eileen was instrumental in cementing The Foundation’s relationship with the PNG government, and a key proponent of initial planning for the proposed Centre of Excellence for Eye Health. But it was Eileen’s personal warmth and good nature, combined with her positive spirit that impacted everyone she encountered the most. Despite our great sorrow at losing Eileen, we are all so much the better for knowing her.
As a medical doctor my whole reason for being is to prevent illness and to get people well. Furthermore, as an eye surgeon, my focus is to do everything in my power to prevent avoidable blindness. That is what drives the nearly 300 eye doctors and nurses I work with in seven countries across the Pacific. As our countries put necessary measures in place to battle COVID-19, including diverting resources, we knew it was the right thing to do. But as eye doctors and nurses we have seen the lines of people needing sight-saving surgeries grow and grow over the past two years, and that is hard to stomach.
But we’re not the sort of people to sit on our hands. We worked with our departments and ministries of health to agree standard operating procedures so we could safely continue to deliver eye services whenever possible. We went on outreaches whenever we could, completing 88 in 2021. And we changed how we trained our student eye doctors and nurses so they could study from their home country.
We also worked closely with government departments to support the strengthening of health systems for eye health and, given that due to COVID-19 we couldn’t do as many outreaches as we would have liked, we took the opportunity to focus on clinical training, safety, and governance - improving clinical systems and enhancing regional collaboration.
I am immensely proud of the 15 eye doctors and nurses who graduated in 2021. Earning a post-graduate medical qualification is the culmination of a great deal of work and sacrifice. To achieve that during a global pandemic is nothing short of incredible. These graduates join the growing team of local eye doctors and nurses working in seven Pacific countries. In a typical outreach, as one person, I can safely conduct 25 eye surgeries per day for five days a week. But as a team we could help thousands of people regain their sight. With your help I continue to support our dedicated, determined eye care team with advice, equipment, protective clothing and procedures, as they work towards ending avoidable blindness and vision impairment in our part of the world. It’s not the easiest work in the world some days, but when we see a person’s face light up as they see their spouse for the first time in many years, or a child seeing their parents for the first time, we know it is the best.
Mosese Fainga'a is a recent nursing graduate who, due to COVID-19 challenges, completed his training online. He now works as an eye nurse in Tonga.
"I recently completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Eye Care programme - one of the first batch to ever pioneer and complete the programme online from our homeland. I would like to express my sincerest acknowledgement to all donors through The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ who provided me with the chance to achieve this dream and achievement. Now I am equipped with new knowledge and a set of skills that enable me to implement more effective eye care."
Despite these challenges, our Pacific teams showed determination and resilience, finding innovative ways to deliver eye care to those most in need, holding crucial outreaches in remote communities and delivering community education programmes to slow the growth in preventable eye conditions.
Our teams also ensured that those training to be eye doctors and nurses could continue their studies which meant learning remotely for many, as they had been called back to their home country due to COVID-19. In 2021, we saw 15 people graduate as eye doctors or nurses throughout the Pacific – a fantastic result despite the challenges and bringing the total number of Pacific eye graduates supported by The Foundation to 327.
However, with COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout both 2020 and 2021, a number of planned outreaches, surgeries and programmes were unavoidably deferred. This unspent budget has been reallocated for 2022, increasing outreaches, surgeries and programme delivery to tackle the massive backlog of patients that has resulted as a direct impact of COVID-19. We know we can do this with the support of our donors and the determination and passion of our team.
Patson went blind at the age of 70 from bilateral cataracts. With no permanent eye doctor on his island, Dr Carole Poloso and the visiting Outreach team were the only option for Patson after two years without sight.
“I couldn’t recognise anyone. I couldn’t see my food, let alone cook it. Everywhere I wanted to go, someone had to come with me, in case I fell. I was no good. So, I just sat at home. I was sad, I was lonely.”
The local eye nurse organised a truck to take Patson and others to the Outreach team. A 25-minute operation was all it took for Patson to regain his independence.
“I am now able to read again. And write. Your sight is everything.”
Jyoti noticed issues with her son Zaydan’s vision when he was just four years old. He hadn’t been born with cataracts, but she knew it was serious when he began looking in the wrong direction when she spoke to him.
The COVID-19 outbreak in Fiji meant local services were limited. Jyoti made the decision to travel far from home to Labasa where Dr Mundi Qoqonokana and the Outreach team were visiting.
As a child, Zaydan desperately needed his cataracts removed to limit the chance of long-term sight issues. Two operations in three days, under general anaesthetic, is difficult enough for anyone. Terrifying for a small boy who can barely see what’s happening.
It was a scary journey, but as Jyoti says, “The operation has changed his life. It has also changed mine.”
Moses Kombra recently graduated with an Advanced Diploma in Eye Care from Divine Word University in Madang, Papua New Guinea.
After becoming a general nurse, he was moved by the number of patients he come across with eye problems that were left untreated. He decided to study eye health to look after ordinary people who could not afford to go to the hospital to get their eyes treated.
He was awarded a scholarship through The Foundation that covered his course fees. It also covers living costs, which meant Moses could live on campus and focus on his course.
Moses is already providing eye care to patients in the Western Highlands province and looks forward to making a big impact on eye care in his community.
A key cornerstone of our work supporting the development of a sustainable eye care workforce in Fiji took place in December. Eye doctors and nurses, government officials and support staff attended the biennial Fiji Ophthalmic Talanoa in Suva. Following the talanoa method*, this conference brought participants together for an inclusive, open conversation on key concerns and developments in eye care. They heard speakers talk about emerging trends and technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, reviewed case studies and shared knowledge.
This year the conference focused on a growing eye care issue in the Pacific – diabetes eye disease. The leading cause of preventable blindness in working-age adults, diabetes eye disease is a degenerative and irreversible condition that can develop in anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. There were also sessions about delivering care in a COVID-19 environment and managing stress.
The Talanoa is held every two years, with a Pacific region-wide event hosted by the Pacific Eye Care Society (PacEYES) taking place in the alternate years.
“Gathering Fiji’s eye health workforce together annually has allowed our front-line workers to reflect on the year gone and the challenges ahead.”- Dr Audrey Aumua, Chief Executive Officer, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ
*Talanoa (“talk” or “discussion” in Fijian, Samoan and Tongan) is a Pacific Island form of dialogue that brings people together to share opposing views without any predetermined expectations for agreement. Talanoa participants set the parameters for their discussions: inclusion, reconciliation and mutual respect.
For our students training to be eye doctors and nurses, COVID-19 has presented many challenges to overcome. It has meant adapting to new ways of learning, such as online courses, to ensure they can graduate and return to their home countries to provide desperately needed eye care.
Dr Antonio Taufaeteau is one of these students, currently training in Fiji to become an eye doctor. His ambition is to finish his studies and go back home to Tonga to provide eye care there.
“Studying has been so hard because of COVID-19. In April 2020, we moved to online classes and people were called back home to support their local communities during the pandemic. This meant I was the only student in my year.
It was extremely difficult, but it pushed me to reach my full potential. Dr Mundi and his Outreach team were travelling in Fiji and because I was the only student, I got to perform a lot of eye surgeries that helped me gain confidence and experience. When they say every challenge is an opportunity for growth, they are correct.”
Singer and award-winning journalist, Indira Stewart has partnered with The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ to end avoidable blindness and vision impairment in the Pacific.
The popular broadcaster and host of TVNZ Breakfast emigrated from Tonga to New Zealand, aged two. On her many visits to Pacific countries, Indira has seen first-hand the impact The Foundation has on restoring eyesight to others.
“Sight is something so many of us take for granted. I know that The Foundation's work is life-changing,” says Indira.
In 2021, Indira kicked off her partnership with The Foundation by encouraging young New Zealanders to enter The Fred Hollows Humanity Awards. She also helped to promote The Foundation's Christmas Gift of Sight campaign.
We look forward to continuing to work with Indira as she uses her voice to support our work and share our impact with New Zealanders, helping us to get closer to achieving our goal of ending avoidable blindness and vision impairment in the Pacific.
Aneke Kilbride was named as the 2021 Fred Hollows NZ Junior Ambassador for taking on her local District Council about the region's environmental footprint. The 11-year-old student from Paekakariki School took her environmental action to the next level when she spoke at a Kāpiti Coast District Council planning meeting earlier this year, telling councillors and members of the public about environmental issues and the impact they are having on the local community.
The Fred Hollows Humanity Awards, now in their third year in New Zealand, are inspired by the late Professor Fred Hollows and recognise young Kiwis who strive to make the world around them better.
Principal of Paekakariki School, Julia Bevin, who nominated Aneke for the award says the plucky student isn't afraid to speak out or stand up for what is right.
As well as receiving her award, Aneke was also able to extend her good work by directing $5,000 to a Pacific Programme run by The Foundation, thanks to charity partner Specsavers.
Long-term supporters of The Foundation, Atesh and Bernadette, decided to make Atesh’s 50th birthday extra special this year. By making a personal donation and inviting friends and family to donate to The Foundation in lieu of gifts, this generous couple raised an incredible $110,000 and have impacted the lives of hundreds of people in Fiji.
“We love The Foundation’s great work in terms of the difference it makes to the lives of so many. The work it does helping one person, which benefits several immediate family members.”
2022 marks 30 years since Professor Fred Hollows and Gabi Hollows established The Fred Hollows Foundation in Australia. A few months later, some of Fred's friends in New Zealand established The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.
Every day we strive to continue their work of eradicating avoidable blindness, with a focus on the Pacific Region. With COVID-19 presenting our team with many difficult challenges over the past few years, the number of people desperately needing eye care has grown larger as our clinics have been forced to close and outreaches unable to be held. In 2022, with Fred’s inspiring legacy at the forefront of our minds, we will work hard to clear this backlog of patients, getting ever closer to a world where no one is needlessly blind.
The challenges presented by COVID-19 in both 2020 and 2021 meant that planned outreaches, surgeries and programmes were necessarily deferred. Although we were able to repurpose part of this budgeted expenditure to other impact areas, such as procuring medical equipment and COVID-19 response supplies for the eye clinic teams, an underspend resulted for both years in ‘Eye Care Programmes and Public Education’ expenditure. We have reallocated this underspend into the 2022 year which includes one of the largest programme expenditure budgets on record of $11.6 million. This will include increased outreaches, surgeries and programme delivery to help tackle the massive backlog of patients that has resulted as a direct impact of COVID-19.