HRH The Countess of Wessex hears how researchers are preventing avoidable blindness around the world

Caption: Matthew Burton and HRH the Countess of Wessex: Credit: The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

More than 170 eye health experts from around the globe gathered in London to discuss how eye health services can be developed and expanded across the Commonwealth.

The event marks the fifth year of the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium (CEHC), established in 2015 by the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in partnership with The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Worldwide, there are 253 million people who are blind or visually impaired, yet 80% of these cases could have been avoided. In the UK, there are 59 eye doctors per million people; in sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greater, there is only 1 per million, and most are located in urban areas. CEHC aims to prevent avoidable vision loss and blindness by bringing quality eye care to all those who need it.

Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, attended the event and spoke with leading ophthalmologists and health professionals about their work which is changing the way eye care is delivered in some of the most under-resourced areas of the Commonwealth.

Co-ordinated by LSHTM, the Consortium is an international network of leading eye health centres of excellence spanning 47 Commonwealth countries. Over the last five years, the Consortium has worked in partnership to deliver an exciting, integrated, programme of fellowships, research and technology.

The Consortium has doubled the number of eye doctors with a PhD in Africa, provided over 20,000 health professionals with online training in eye health, and screened over 200,000 schoolchildren in Kenya using the smart-phone based vision testing tool, Peek.

Caption: Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium at St. James’s Palace. Credit: The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust
Caption: Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium at St. James’s Palace. Credit: The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

Matthew Burton, Professor of International Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Director of CEHC, said: “It was an honour to welcome HRH the Countess of Wessex to this landmark meeting. For much of the world good eye care is a scarce resource, and those in greatest need have the most limited access to screening and treatment. I’d like to thank all members of the Consortium for their hard work, dedication and innovative thinking which is transforming the lives of a great number of people.”

The Countess of Wessex, who marked her 50th birthday by visiting eye health projects at LSHTM, is passionate about eradicating avoidable blindness, and has seen first-hand the difference organisations with the right knowledge, experience and funding can make on a global scale.

At the meeting, HRH chatted with Associate Professor in International Eye Health at LSHTM Dr Andrew Bastawrous, (LSHTM), who is also Chief Executive Officer of social enterprise Peek which is working to create sustainable access to eye care.  Dr Bastawrous reflected on the work of Peek which has partnered with the government of Botswana l to screen and treat every schoolchild nationwide.

Her Royal Highness also tried out specialist surgical training equipment to simulate eye surgery which is being used to train eye doctors from all over the Commonwealth.

The Countess also spoke with Nigerian ophthalmologist Dr Chimdi Chuka-Okosoa about current training opportunities for ophthalmologists from East and West Africa and the moves to develop specialist training centres across the region

Her Royal Highness then hosted a reception at St. James’s Palace for participants of the Consortium, High Commissioners, policy makers and eye health experts to celebrate the achievements of global eye health leaders.


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