The Fred Hollows Foundation would like to nominate Jen Merryweather for the IAPB Eye Health Hero Innovators Category. Jen has been, and continues to be, instrumental in influencing innovative and positive change across the Australian eye health and vision care sector. Jen persistently works with key stakeholders to challenge systemic racism and unconscious bias that have prevented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples fully participating in, and leading, key decisions and reforms designed to close the gap in eye health outcomes between Indigenous people and other Australians.
Jen was integral in getting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices heard in the development of ‘Strong Eyes, Strong Communities: A five-year plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and vision, 2019-2024’. Jen’s consistent efforts and advocacy have also been key to advancing Australia’s eye health and vision care sector’s role, from that of a service provider to Aboriginal communities – to capacity builder and champion for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. This has required not only collective attitudes and behaviours to be shifted, but innovative thinking around the service delivery and funding models to be transformed from their current state which tend to rely on a ‘fly –in fly-out’ approach. As a result, priority has been given to investing in local capacity, including increased support for the funding for local service delivery positions and resources to enhance eye care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and their communities.
Jen’s contribution to shifting attitudes and behaviours in the eye health sector has also helped to address access issues for vulnerable populations. By actively encouraging the utilisation of Australia’s health financing system it has resulted in an increase of private Ophthalmologists providing services fully covered by the Australian Government-funded health scheme to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.
Without Jen and her efforts, the landscape for eye care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples would be a very different space. Jen is a true ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and champion for improved eye health for Australia’s First Peoples.
“I love working with our community-controlled partners to understand what is and isn’t working in the eye health system, and working alongside them to advocate for change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector are critical to ensuring that the eye health system actually meets the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to help change attitudes and policies so that the eye health system is underpinned by the principle of self-determination.”
– Jennifer Merryweather