COVID-19 and its impact on The Fred Hollows Foundation’s work in Australia

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s work in Australia and overseas has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic first hit, our teams in countries like China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Myanmar and The Philippines redirected their efforts away from eye health to help fight the virus and slow the spread. In almost all countries where we work, this health crisis is continuing to unfold.

In Australia, healthcare workers are focused on vaccinating as much of the population as possible. Our partners in Australia, which includes several Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Services, are taking the lead in vaccinating their local communities. This means that healthcare efforts are redirected towards the vaccination roll out, and many of our eye health services are deemed non-essential during this time.

Ben Whitlam from the Outback Eye Service with his patients from rural NSW

In the case of Western NSW, the COVID-19 situation has become increasingly dire, with alarming COVID-19 case numbers in Aboriginal communities like Wilcannia and Bourke. Specsavers support a Senior Orthoptist position through our partner, the Outback Eye Service. This role is based at the Prince of Wales Hospital, and they travel in and out of this rural NSW region to provide eye health services across five Aboriginal communities. With lockdown restrictions, this travel is limited, creating a backlog of patients that will need to see the orthoptist when restrictions allow.

Days before the COVID-19 outbreak in Western NSW, the Outback Eye Service was able to implement a week-long emergency eye health clinic in five communities. The Outback Eye Service has demonstrated extreme resilience in providing eye health services via telehealth. Once it is possible to travel into these communities again, the Outback Eye Service will waste no time in addressing the backlog of patients that need eye health care. This dedication to providing eye care services to these rural regions is truly inspiring and demonstrates Professor Fred Hollows’ spirit of caring deeply for others.

Ben Whitlam from the Outback Eye Service with his patients from rural NSW

“The motivation comes from within yourself, you have to be self-motivated to manage a health program from afar, across such a vast landscape,” Ben Whitlam, Orthoptist from the Outback Eye Service said.

Specsavers also support the work of our partner, Lions Outback Vision in Western Australia. COVID-19 border restrictions has disrupted some clinics as locum doctors have not been able to travel from eastern states. Despite these recent disruptions, Lions Outback Vision continue to deliver high functioning outputs, screening patients regularly (over 600 last quarter), performing diabetic retinopathy treatments and training those to be upskilled in treating DR including Doctors, Nurses, Clinic Coordinators and Chronic Disease Nurses.

It’s important to highlight the change this work is making to the lives of people in these rural areas and to recognise their continued efforts to restore sight here in Australia despite the COVID pandemic. Thank you Specsavers for supporting this important work. We cannot thank you enough for your continued support through these challenging times.