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Fred Hollows died on 10 February 1993 in the age of 63 years after a short and valiant battle with kidney, lung, and brain cancer. In his remarkable career he had quickly risen to being a major international figure in the world of ophthalmic surgery.
In the 1950s Fred Hollows decided as a young medical student to become an ophthalmologist because this would give him a useful skill to work in Africa. As a postgraduate ophthalmology student in Wales, Hollows studied epidemiology so that he could link eye doctoring with wide ranging community health programmes. In 1968 at Wattie Creek in northern Australia Hollows identified in an aboriginal community “dahlak blindness”, a hazy corneal condition first found in Eritrea. He began to lobby for funds and between the years 1976 and 1979 a “better vision for all” programme called the National Trachoma and Eye Health Programme treated the eyes of 100 732 people; 62 116 of these were indigenous Australians.
Eventually this led to series of eye health programmes in Eritrea, Nepal, and Vietnam, which have restored the sight of thousands, and to a struggle to lessen disparity in health and treatment between the “haves” and “have nots”.
When he went to Eritrea in 1988 during the hardest struggle for independence he taught the medical doctors in ophthalmological surgery. There were many patients with cataract who could not be treated in Eritrea at that time because of lack in experience and materials; many of the patients came from Danakel (south eastern Eritrea), said to be the hottest place on the earth.
From 1990 to 1992 Professor Hollows gathered the necessary capital to build the intraocular lens factory in Asmara; such a factory has been put to the test before in Australia.
His dream came true: The Foundation of Fred Hollows was officially opened on 20 January 1994 in Asmara by the president of the state of Eritrea, I Afeworki, the Australian senator of foreign affairs, Gareth Evans, and Mrs Gabi Hollows with her children. This laboratory is an expression of his admiration, understanding, and love of the people of Eritrea and their struggle to achieve independence and self reliance. The factory produces an estimated 60 000 intraocular lenses per year; in Eritrea there are 30 000 cataract patients per year.
His desire to help and identify himself with the suffering of the people of Eritrea did not end with the eye programme. He undertook the task of finding a solution to the removal of the millions of landmines scattered in Eritrea and other countries.
Fred Hollows was no dry, dusty academic but had considerable style and joie de vivre. He maintained an active family life with his wife and their five young children.
Fred Hollows will remain for a long time in our hearts and memories. We share deepest sympathy with his family.