Queen celebrates campaign to halt avoidable blindness

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The Queen and Countess of Wessex have celebrated the progress being made towards eliminating avoidable blindness through the work of a royal project during a Buckingham Palace reception.

The Queen personally greeted around 200 health professionals and supporters from across the Commonwealth who have helped saved the sight of 22 million people in five years, through a project led by The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Trust.

The five-year scheme was set up in 2012 by the Commonwealth Heads of Government and began work in 2015 with the aim of curbing avoidable blindness and empowering young people to continue the work beyond 2020.

Trust vice-patron, the Countess of Wessex, gave a speech at the reception reflecting on the trust’s work as it nears the end in 2020.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust reception
The Countess of Wessex speaks during the reception (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

In a speech addressed to the Queen, Sophie said: “I feel in a way that I have been your eyes, having travelled to Malawi, Bangladesh and India to see the work of the trust first-hand, witnessing the ambitious initiatives being carried out in Your Majesty’s name, and ensuring that the intended legacy would be real and long lasting.”

The countess, who was wearing a long white dress, added: “When I have returned from my travels I have been so proud to share with you the work I have witnessed being carried out under the umbrella of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and the care of so many people working so hard to save and cure sight.

“Each time you have listened with interest and been eager to hear of how the work is going, and each time I have been stunned as you have shared with me your deep knowledge of each of these countries, not top-level observations, but personal experience, demonstrating to me time and again the real affection you have for all people of the Commonwealth and why that affection is so abundantly returned by them to you.”

Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust reception
The Queen, accompanied by the Countess of Wessex (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

More than 22 million people in Africa and the Pacific have received antibiotics to combat trachoma, the most common cause of blindness in the world, through the trust.

It has also supported Malawi and Vanuatu to remove the risk of the disease, and both countries are on track to eliminate trachoma, according to the World Health Organisation.

In India, the trust has provided sight-saving surgery to more than 104,000 people suffering trachoma trichiasis, and given 19,200 treatments to prevent sight loss caused by diabetes.

It also established screening services for babies at risk of retinopathy of prematurity – the leading cause of childhood blindness.

Dr Hillary Rono, who met the Queen on Tuesday, was the sole ophthalmologist working in his rural area of Kenya until 2015. He has helped more than two million people with their eye health through support from the trust.

Dr Rono explained how when he had eye problems himself, he had to travel almost 40 miles to see a specialist, and this also motivated him to specialise in eye health.

Now with funding from the trust, he uses Peek, a mobile phone app which helps ophthalmologists identify eye problems in Kenyan schools to save the sight of children before they develop.

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