Every eye is an eye, but every journey is different: insight into The Fred Hollows Foundation’s culturally responsive eye care models

Jaki Adams-Barton1

Regional Associate Director – Australasia, The Fred Hollows Foundation


For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there is a distinct gap between the need for eye health care services and access to those services. Each patient’s journey to screening and treatment for eye conditions is individual and distinctive, within a highly complex patient pathway. The Fred Hollows Foundation works to build culturally responsive models of eye care that put the patient and their individual needs at the centre. The patient journey should be seamless and fully integrated, allowing the patient to move from one level of care to another within a reasonable timeframe. By taking a health system strengthening approach and championing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership, The Fred Hollows Foundation seeks to bridge the gap between access and need. This is to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access the right care, at the right time, by the right team, in the right place. Leading ophthalmologist and human rights campaigner Professor Fred Hollows called for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander control and ownership of health services in the 1970s when he led the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. Over 40 years later, The Foundation continues his legacy in partnership with a range of organisations to help create models of eye care that are culturally responsive and safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


Jaki was born and raised in Darwin and is of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, with ancestral links to the Yadhaigana and Wuthathi people of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, traditional family ties with the Gurindji people of Central Western Northern Territory and extended family relationships with the people of the Torres Straits and Warlpiri (Yuendumu NT). Jaki is from a large extended family and is very proud to be a part of such a supportive and loving unit. Jaki sees balancing work and home life as her major challenge but one that she makes every effort to succeed at. Jaki returned home to Darwin in 2008 after spending 11 years in Brisbane, to reconnect with her family and enjoy the relaxed and culturally diverse environment that Darwin and the Northern Territory has to offer.

Jaki’s career includes Hospitality; Secondary Teaching; and, over 18 years in the Australian Public Service (APS) and a short stint in the NT Public Service. Jaki’s experience as a public servant started as a Graduate Administrative Assistant with The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), progressing across a variety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Aged Care programs, and then 8 years in the Australian Defence (security) portfolio. Working her way, across the APS, Queensland and the NT, to the position of NT Director of the Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH) in the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) in 2008. Jaki joined The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program in early 2012 and was soon promoted to the Manager’s position in January 2013.

Jaki’s achievements in this time include refocusing the programming to align with The Foundation’s global eye health outcomes through developing capacity and confidence of the team (and partners) to significantly influence the sector to consider eye health beyond the clinical aspects and in line with patient pathways, cultural competence, health literacy, service level coordination and system strengthening. Through her commitment, passion and determination Jaki has proven to be an invaluable contributor to improving eye care access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Jaki has recently been promoted to Regional Associate Director – Australasia in recognition of the work done for The Foundation and the sector in Australia, and in the interest of sharing this knowledge and her professional strengths to build a new region for The Foundation. The Region includes programming in Australia (through the Indigenous Australia Program), the Pacific (Trachoma elimination specifically) and Timor Leste.

Jaki has held many leadership roles, including Chair of Vision 2020 Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee, a Vision 2020 Australia Board Member and as The Foundation’s key representative on the national Close the Gap Steering Committee since 2012.

Jaki has a personal and professional commitment to do whatever she can to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Jaki states that

“……being able to have direct impact on and positively contribute to programs (and broader discussions) that address ending avoidable blindness and improvements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is an inspiring and an honourable position to be in”.

“Being welcomed into The Fred Hollows family and charged with significant responsibility (to keep Fred’s legacy alive) in a complex and diverse environment, is both challenging and rewarding, and keeps me engaged and motivated to make a difference everyday”

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