Ray Avery has received almost universally positive press coverage. For more than a decade New Zealanders have been told of the millions of people who’ve benefited from his inventions.

He is widely described as a scientist, inventor and philanthropist and the media coverage makes claims about him that even he does not make about himself and his work. Some reports have been, at times, a little inventive.

His Medicine Mondiale website features his strategic communication adviser for the past two decades, Angela Griffen, lists Thornton Communications as his public relations agency and Young and Shand as its digital ad campaign agency. NZME, which owns the New Zealand Herald, NewstalkZB and many papers and radio stations is listed as a supporter which “helps promote” the Avery cause.

The Avery media team have employed an active, take-it-to-them approach to some critics. When former Prime Minister Helen Clark made a personal objection as a local resident to the proposed Eden Park concert, he said in a press statement:

“Every person filing an opposition to the concert needs to understand that they are sabotaging everything I have worked for to save the lives of at-risk babies.”

No pressure, neighbours.

Google the name Ray Avery and you variously read that his work at the Fred Hollows Foundation has helped saved the eyesight of 30 million people (the two factories he set up and helped develop a fast cheap way of making lenses have, in their lifetime, manufactured up to five million lenses), or that his other inventions have changed lives in the Third World.

 – Stuff.co.nz in February 2010 reported Avery’s citation for New Zealander of the Year, noting the 30 million figure and the award’s claim Avery had “developed” the actual intraocular lenses which the Hollows Foundation has used to such great effect. However the lens was invented decades before he worked at Hollows, by a UK scientist. It went on to say his “Acuset IV flow controller [a kind of intravenous pump device] invented by Ray prevents the under and over administration of potent IV drugs in the developed and developing world”. That controller has never been produced in commercial numbers, despite much talk, and is not in production.

– Avery first formed the media partnership with NZME late in 2014 and has had positive coverage since. His ambitions impressed then-chief executive, Jane Hastings, and her marketing director.

– In October 2014 he launched, through the Herald, a campaign to raise what was then only $2 million to develop incubators for developing countries’ hospitals. The story at the time said “Sir Ray’s charity agency Medicine Mondiale is close to putting its revolutionary designs into production”, reporting he had joined an Indian manufacturer to produce them. Here, four years ago, Avery said the $2 million “global fundraising” was to get the project to the production stage by financing work to obtain medical-device certification for the ISO”. That ISO certification has not yet been obtained, explained by Avery as awaiting his factory to do its bit.

– A Herald story in June 2015 reported Avery “is getting help from dozens of artists around the world to raise money for lifesaving baby incubators” and quoted his wife, Anna, saying she hoped to raise $200,000.

– Prominent lawyer Mai Chen and her husband John Sinclair donated $10,000 for the LifePods that same month, and were credited by Avery with helping “2500 babies who will now have the chance at life”.

– In a warm profile in September 2015 the Herald reported “The LifePod has reached the manufacturing stage and Avery hopes to have it in the market early next year” which would have been two years ago, 2016. No production at any scale has yet started.

Stuff reported in December that year that 30 schools were fundraising to sponsor LifePods. The Medicine Mondiale LifePod website homepage prominently urges schools to try to raise $2000 to fund one LifePod each.

Free publication Auckland Today describes Sir Ray Avery as “the philanthropic scientist whose medical inventions have saved millions of lives”. 

– Early in 2016, the Herald reported on his work for the intraocular lens for the Hollows foundation that “Sir Ray estimates that by 2020, 30 million people will have had their sight restored because of the lens-manufacturing technology.”

– Stuff’s Western Leader reported Avery in March 2016 saying he had raised enough money to produce 339 incubators and “Avery says about $350,000 is needed to start complete production”.  As of Tuesday this week, however funds were still being raised on thelifepod.co.nz  website for “Lifepod  #25”

– Another Stuff story in April that year said: “By the end of 2016, Avery hopes to have 20 LifePods operating in the Pacific Islands.”

– In May 2016, an article in www.intheblack.com said about US$1million “has been raised so far” to kickstart production for the LifePods.

– In August 2016, Avery’s own Medicine Mondiale website posted a piece from its project manager Andrew Sinclair, saying work had begun producing the LifePod and an update in January 2017 says from the Chennai, India, partner’s factory: “We now have an assembled LifePod in front of us”.

– By January this year, a first-person piece from Avery in the Weekend Herald’s Canvas magazine has Avery saying: “After seven years, the incubator is now in production in India.” He claims: “They’ve been tested in hospitals in a soft launch, meet ISO standards and I’m proud of that because my organisation is a small, virtual organisation.”

– When the Eden Park fundraising concert was launched on June 2, the Herald reported of the LifePod project: “The first countries likely to benefit would be in the Pacific, but he also expected the LifePods to be shipped around the world. His factory is capable of building 184 every week once the funding is in place.” 

Since the controversy erupted over the Eden Park application, and opposition from neighbours over noise and the prospect of multiple concerts following the LifePod event, Avery has featured in several soft interviews and laudatory columns.

– The NZME Radio Hauraki host Matt Heath, in a Herald column headlined: “The babies of Eden Park need our support” told of attending the launch event in the grandstands. “The great Ray Avery spoke. He reminded me of Jurassic Park owner John Hammond as he stood proudly beside his creation.“The pre-eminent scientist broke the sad news that he only has 5000 days left. Don’t worry there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s 71, so he’s planning on hitting his mid-80s. Hopefully he lives much longer. He’s done so much but is determined to do even more with his remaining years. That’s why he’s invented this tough, stylish-looking incubator. Took him 10 years. If the Eden Park event raises $4 million dollars he can build and ship enough of these to save a million little babies. That’s if the event gets consent.”

– In a Newshub Nation interview with Lisa Owen in which he was asked if all the money from the concert would be used on LifePods, he did not give a specific answer. The follow-up question moved to whether he was born an inventor. He was also asked what the world’s greatest modern invention was – to which Avery replied: “The one I’m going to do next. These nutritional bars we are working on, we think that will impact positively for half a billion kids in sub-Saharan Africa.”

– A publication Auckland Today, dropped free into post office boxes, features Avery on the cover this month, and introduces him as “the philanthropic scientist whose medical inventions have saved millions of lives” who is “one of our brightest stars”. It features his newest promotion, Amigo bars, a nutritional product “highly enriched with vitamins and amino acids to grow healthy minds and bodies”. The aim is to distribute them in New Zealand from “late this year”.

– A weekend interview on Radio Live with host Trudi Nelson saw her tell him to go and meet his concert opponents because: “I spent time with you Sir Ray in a room when I MC’d an event with you and I fell under your spell.” Later she told him the Waitangi Day plans “sound bloody brilliant. I cannot believe you are getting so much opposition. It really bothers me”.

Avery has certainly had a charmed run in the media.

But there was one notable exception, a piece by the journalist Benedict Collins when he wrote for a Chinese language publication ”The United Press Selection” in October 2010. The story is no longer online after a challenge by a lawyer.

But Newsroom has it in hard copy and Collins, now of TVNZ, wrote that Avery did not invent intraocular lenses nor the technology needed to make them. “IOLs were invented by British ophthalmologist Sir Harold Ridley, during the Second World War, before Avery was born.”

The New Zealander of the Year media release from 2010 quotes patron Jim Bolger: “Because of Avery an estimated 30 million people suffering from cataract blindness will have regained their sight by 2020.”

Avery told the United Press he didn’t invent IOLs but said what he did invent was an improved way of cutting and polishing the lenses while they were being processed.” (Newsroom has established independently he was one of a number of people on the project to improve the processing).

Asked why he had not corrected the widespread misinformation surrounding his IOL inventions Avery said he “could not be held responsible” for what people wrote about him.

“Sometimes people just write stuff to make it sound simple, but it’s a complicated story,” he said.

United Press had contacted the World Health Organisation about the 30 million figure and was told its best assessment of cataract blindness was that there were 17.6 million affected globally.

Asked to justify the seemingly high 30 million figure, Avery said it included not just the completely blind but those who were losing their sight as well. He said the Hollows Foundation had made its lens technology open source so other companies could replicate it, thus the expanded benefit.

Newsroom understands Avery’s supporters objected strongly to the United Press Selection article before it was pulled.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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