A Melbourne-based professor who has spent years working to improve the vision of indigenous people, has become the first Australian to receive the Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research. Professor Hugh Taylor, Chair of Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne, was recognised for his 30 years work in eye health at a ceremony in the U.S. recently. The prize’s 17 previous recipients include two Nobel Laureates and two Lasker Award winners, and it also comes with a $USD30,000 ($AUD42,000) cheque.
“I’ll be the first Australian in the list … it is indeed a huge honour,” Prof. Taylor told AAP. “It’s come totally out of the blue but I’m thrilled about it.”
Prof. Taylor, a former student, close friend and colleague of the late Fred Hollows, is now undertaking Australia’s first comprehensive national survey of indigenous eye health. His career has focused primarily on public health aspects of eye disease, including initiatives to treat trachoma and river blindness in developing countries. Prof. Taylor is also vicepresident of a global body of non-government and professional groups, which is working to rid the world’s poorest nations of preventable blindness by 2020.
The award was presented by Helen Keller’s great-grand niece at a ceremony on 5 May in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Prof. Taylor said the prize money would be spent to “help the work that we’re doing on … eye care in our Aboriginal communities, to close that vision gap”.
He also revealed he’d met Helen Keller, the acclaimed U.S. author and activist who was also deaf and blind, when she visited Australia in the late 1940s. But he was too young to remember the encounter.
“My grandfather was an ophthalmologist so she came out and visited him while he was in Melbourne,” he said.