INTERNATIONALLY renowned ophthalmologist, Laureate Professor Hugh Taylor says Melbourne has played a key role in spreading the message about trachoma.  

Trachoma is an infectious eye disease, which can lead to permanent blindness if not treated.

Taylor has been a champion in spreading the message of ‘clean faces, strong eyes’ among Australia, particularly in Indigenous communities. He said having Melbourne on board with the campaign was integral to fighting the disease.

“The mighty Dees carry so much weight and influence in the community and to have them talking about the importance of clean faces and good hygiene – as well as teaching them how to kick and mark the ball, just makes a wonderful impression in the community,” he told Melbourne TV from Santa Teresa, about 80km south-east of Alice Springs.

“We’ve been working on trachoma for quite a while, but not as long as I’ve been a Dees supporter, which was a long time ago, when we won several premierships.

“When you walk around the Aboriginal communities and visit the clinics, there are always posters advertising clean health or vaccinations or telling people not to smoke, but the best ones are the ones that have got football players in them.”

Taylor, from Melbourne University, said he approached Melbourne to be part of the program when the late, great Jim Stynes was president, and when Indigenous stars Aaron Davey and Liam Jurrah were at the club.

“I said we needed to get some football players involved in trachoma, so at the time Aaron Davey and Liam Jurrah were playing for the Dees, so I wrote to Melbourne and asked them if they wanted to become ambassadors and supporters for this,” he said.

“It was the time that Jimmy Stynes was alive and eventually the club said ‘yes, we’d love to get involved’.

“We’ve done this since 2010, so every year the Dees are playing in the Territory, we’ve been able to run these clinics, which is just fantastic. The players have been fantastic ambassadors.”

Taylor said ‘Milpa’ the mascot, which has become synonymous with the campaign, was also integral.

“Milpa, the trachoma goanna, started off as a little logo on the health promotion material, but then it turned into a real-life animal. So Milpa goes around and gives the message about ‘clean faces, strong eyes’,” he said.

“Milpa is recognised by most people in these communities, because of the ongoing health promotion we’ve got, which emphasises to kids to keep their faces clean.”

Overall, Taylor said much had been achieved in trying to eradicate trachoma, but there was more to be done.  

“We’ve been making some really good progress,” he said.

“When we first started working on all of this in 2008, the prevalence of trachoma in the outback areas was 21 per cent of the kids. So, 21 per cent of the kids had this potentially blinding eye infection, but the most recent data we got last year – the rate has dropped down to 4.6 per cent.”

“So, we’re making some really good progress, but we’ve still got more work to do to get it to zero.”