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Eye Inspired by Dr Caroline Harper

One of our 2020 Eye Health Hero reflects back on the honour and the first of the Eye Inspire interviews.
Published: 12.01.2021
Jennifer Merryweather Senior Policy Advisor
The Fred Hollows Foundation
Jennifer
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I ended 2020 on a note of inspiration: as an ‘IAPB Eye Health Hero’ and attended an online event with Dr Caroline Harper, CEO of Sightsavers. With the start of a new year, I’ve been reflecting on what Dr Caroline talked about and how I might apply some of these lessons to my work.

Shared commitment and values

As CEO of a big organisation, Dr Caroline reflected on the importance of shared commitment and values, and how critical this is in a UK-based global organisation that works in many countries.

I’m a Senior Policy Advisor working with the Indigenous Australia Program at The Fred Hollows Foundation. Shared commitment and values are critical for us as well. Our shared commitment to our work in Australia is articulated in a set of eight principles. These principles provide a human rights-based approach to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health through an eye health lens.

Our first principle is ‘we uphold the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent’. Our commitment to self-determination is seen through our programming, as well as the way we advocate for change (which is what I do in my job). As a non-Indigenous organisation, it’s our role to actively seek out, elevate and support the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, leaders and organisations.

Think big

Another thing I took away from Dr Caroline’s talk was the importance of thinking more broadly about the work we do. We talk a lot amongst ourselves in the eye health sector – we’re guilty of this in Australia too. But we know that for eye health systems to be effective, they have to be embedded in our broader health system, from primary to tertiary care.

In Australia, inequity in eye health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples sits within the broader context of inequitable health, social and economic outcomes, and systemic and structural racism in our country and within our health system. We understand that in order to address inequity in eye health, we also need to be working towards addressing these broader inequities.

One of the ways we do this is by partnering with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector (ACCHS); working with this sector is the best part of my job. ACCHS are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and are best placed to decide, determine and lead the provision of health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia. This is why investing in ACCHS to design and deliver eye health care is central to Strong Eyes Strong Communities: a five year plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and vision care, which was endorsed by the Australian Government in 2019.

Stop prevaricating (or don’t put off what you are dreading)

This is definitely the hardest one for me – I can be a classic procrastinor when it comes to the really hard stuff. It was comforting to hear that a CEO might also fall into this trap – at least I’m not alone! 2021 could be the chance for me to kick the habit.

Dr Caroline spoke openly about her history and experience, too much to write about in a single blog. This online event was the first of a series for ‘Eye Health Heroes’ that I’ll be attending throughout 2021. I’m looking forward to hearing from other inspiring leaders throughout the year.

I feel very honoured to be named an ‘Eye Health Hero’. It’s been an amazing journey so far. I was particularly privileged to have the opportunity to share the work of the Indigenous Australia Program with Her Majesty The Queen and Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex to mark World Sight Day last year. I don’t think anything will top that!

Being an ‘Eye Health Hero’ has given me the opportunity to not just share the work of the Indigenous Australia Program, but also grow professionally and personally. Being able to connect with other young professionals across the globe is an amazing experience. I’m looking forward to learning not just from sector leaders, but also from the other Eye Health Heroes throughout the year.