Mr Evasoni LokiSouthern Africa 

Ending Avoidable Blindness in Malawi

Rex Bwanausi

Rex Bwanausi (Ophthalmic Clinical Officer – OCO) – courtesy of the Trust’s lead implementing partner in Malawi, Sightsavers

On Monday 13 March, Commonwealth Day, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex GCVO, daughter-in-law of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second and Vice Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, will begin a visit to Malawi to see Trust programmes there.

Four out of five people who are blind in Malawi and across the world do not need to be.  Their blindness can be prevented or treated using simple, proven methods.  The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, set up in 2012 to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s lifetime of service as Head of the Commonwealth, made it its mission to combat avoidable blindness in Malawi and across the Commonwealth.

The centrepiece of the Trust’s programme in Malawi is the initiative to eliminate blinding trachoma: a cruel, painful, infectious disease that has robbed people of their sight for hundreds of years.

In 2014, when the initiative started, 8 million people in Malawi were at risk.  Today no one in Malawi need lose their sight from the disease.  Malawi is now on track to receive verification from the World Health Organisation by 2020 that trachoma is no longer a public health problem.

To reach this point, a major programme of mass drug administration has been carried out to populations at risk; surgery provided for those in the advanced stages of the disease and improvements initiated to hygiene and sanitation in the affected communities.

Many organisations, including members of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, and individuals have been involved across the country, working closely together under the leadership of the Ministry of Health. The communities themselves, including women and schoolchildren, have played a big part in making the changes necessary to stop the spread of the disease.

The Countess of Wessex will visit Chulu in the Kasungu district to see what has been achieved there and to celebrate with the local community this huge advance in improving their own health and that of future generations.

Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, said:  “We are delighted that our Vice Patron is visiting Malawi at this time, as Malawi reaches a milestone in the fight against blinding trachoma:  from now on no one in Malawi need lose their sight from this ancient, painful, infectious disease . A real cause for celebration and an example we hope other countries in the Commonwealth affected by blinding trachoma will follow.”

The Trust is also supporting work to help build Malawi’s capacity to deliver quality eye health services to those who need them.

The Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium is providing Malawian specialists with scholarships and fellowships; linking specialist teams across the Commonwealth to strengthen services; and developing new technology such as Peek, the Portable Eye Examination Kit, which makes it possible to screen patients for eye conditions using a smartphone in any rural or urban setting.  The Countess of Wessex will meet those involved and observe a demonstration of Peek.

Dr Joseph Msosa, Head of the Ophthalmology Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital, Lilongwe, said: “Delivering quality eye health services across Malawi is a challenge.  The support of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is helping us to meet that challenge.  Thanks to the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium Malawian eye specialists have been able to hone their skills and forge lasting connections with others across the Commonwealth, from South Africa and Scotland to Bangladesh and India.  And the new technology could be transformational for people needing eye care.   Diagnosing and treating eye conditions promptly will help us win the battle against avoidable blindness.”

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