International Centre for Eye Health celebrates winning Queen's Anniversary Prize

The International Centre for Eye Health (ICEH) has won one of this year's prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education, and will be presented with the award at an honours ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 16 February.

The Queen's Anniversary Prize scheme was set up in 1993 by the Royal Anniversary Trust with the consent of the Queen and the approval of the Prime Minister and all political parties, and of the Charity Commission. The Prizes, which sit within the national honours system, are awarded biennially. They recognise and honour outstanding achievement and excellence in UK universities and colleges.

The ICEH, a collaborating Centre with the World Health Organisation, was established at the Institute of Ophthalmology in 1980. The Centre moved to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 2002 where it is led by Professor Allen Foster and forms part of the Clinical Research Unit in the Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases.

In 1995, there were an estimated 45 million blind people in the world and this figure is projected to increase to 75 million by the year 2020 because of longevity and increasing population. But 80% of all blindness is either easily preventable or sight can be restored successfully with cost-effective treatment. The Centre, through its three key activities - research into the main blinding eye diseases and their treatment, training for eye health workers from low-income countries, and information and specialist training for community eye health workers worldwide - aims to empower eye health workers to deliver high quality care to people living in the poorest and most remote rural communities in the world, and to eliminate unnecessary blindness.

The Centre was also instrumental, with partners CBM and Sight Savers International and ORBIS, in developing VISION 2020: the Right to Sight, which was taken up by the World Health Organisation in partnership with the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness in 1999. It aims to eliminate avoidable blindness worldwide by 2020, uniting all the major agencies working in the field of blindness and focusing their activities where they will be most effective. Thanks to VISION 2020, many millions of people who would have gone blind from cataract, malnutrition and eye infections are now able to see, and it is estimated that the programme will save 100 million from blindness over the 20-year period.

Sir Andrew Haines, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, comments: 'We are proud and delighted that the Centre's contribution to international health policy has been honoured with a Queen's Anniversary Prize. We selected the Centre to be put forward for a Prize because it is exemplary within the School. It has a well-defined purpose, undertakes world-class research, teaching and education and its existence has directly led to the development of a global programme to reduce disability from eye disease, and improve quality of life for the world's poorest people.'

Allen Foster, Director of ICEH, adds: 'The International Centre for Eye Health has flourished since moving to the School five years ago, benefiting from the expertise in international health at the School which has enabled the Centre to attract high calibre researchers, teachers and health educators. The Centre's staff have worked closely with a group of committed and dedicated NGOs and other agencies who provide the required support for the Centre's activities.

'The global VISION 2020 programme to eliminate avoidable blindness - which the Centre assists with research, teaching and information is a model for how a partnership between UN agencies, governments, NGOs, communities themselves, the corporate sector and academic centres like the London School can work together to develop and deliver a highly cost-effective health intervention which can greatly improve the quality of life of people living in underserved communities and thereby contribute to poverty alleviation'.

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