Sophie’s visit to Malawi focussed on saving sight


, Countess of Wessex spent the last few days in Malawi, for an official visit during the occasion of Commonwealth Week, as Vice Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex was in Malawi seeing the work of the Diamond Jubilee Trust to prevent blindness (Royal Family)

The Countess was in the African country from 13th to 16th March to see the work being done by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust in its initiative to eliminate blinding trachoma. This is a cruel, painful, infectious disease that has robbed people of their sight for hundreds of years.

Sophie – whose daughter, Lady Louise, had corrective surgery for esotropia (a squint) in 2014 – already works with sight charities such as Orbis UK.

On the first day of her visit, the Countess arrived at Lilongwe airport in the early afternoon, where she was greeted by Holly Tett – High Commissioner to Malawi. Her first engagement was meeting with victims of child sex trafficking and domestic violence at the Lilongwe Police Victim Support Unit.

In the evening The Countess of Wessex attended a reception at the British High Commission.

The Countess of Wessex attended a reception at the British High Commission during a visit to Malawi (Royal Family)

Speaking ahead of the royal’s visit, the British High Commissioner to Malawi Holly Tett said:

“We are delighted to have Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex arriving in Malawi on Commonwealth Day to witness how two Commonwealth partners are working together to tackle global issues including fighting diseases like Trachoma.”

“Malawi is on track to eliminate the disease by 2020 which is an incredible achievement and one that we should be proud of.”

On day two, Sophie visited the previously trachoma endemic region – Kasungu district. She visited an educational programme at Chisuwe Primary School in Kasungu District, where she spent time with a family that was affected by trachoma. The VIP saw the work of the Trust’s initiative.

Later that day The Countess toured Kasungu District Hospital, where she met patients and medical staff treating them.

There was also time for short speeches. The Minister of Health said: “The success of the Trachoma Initiative shows the health system is working for people, even in the remotest of places”.

The Countess added: “I look forward to going home to tell Her Majesty about the work and how very soon Malawi will be completely trachoma free”.

Day three saw the Countess visit the Lions Sight First Eye Unit at Kamuzu Central Hospital, where she got to see the impact of the Trust’s work (The Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium – supported by UK aid), to build long term capacity in Malawi to deliver quality eye care services.

Dr Joseph Msosa, Head of the Ophthalmology Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital Lilongwe, who undertook a clinical fellowship at Queen Mary, Fife, with the support of the Trust, 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.”

Afterwards, The Countess visited Mchesi Primary School in Lilongwe, where she saw first-hand how new technology (Peek) is ensuring people can get their eyes screened in any setting. This smartphone technology has screened the sight of over 200,000 school children across the Commonwealth.

Sophie undertook two visits to projects run by The Queen’s Young Leaders: ‘Girls Arise for Change’ initiative a project set up by 2017 winner Virginia Khunguni. A project that empowers young woman affected by violence and lack of education to set up their own businesses; and ‘Loud Ink’, a project led by 2016 winner Madalo Banda established to provide young writers with a platform to engage in social issues through short stories, using creative writing to deal with issues school children face.

To round off the visit, Sophie today presented presented Duke of Edinburgh International Awards the Gold Award Ceremony for Bishop Mackenzie International School and St Andrew’s International School at Bishop Mackenzie International School. The Countess is Global Ambassador for her father-in-law’s scheme.

Sophie presented awards to more than 100 pupils, activities ranged from street dance to mountain expeditions.

She will return home later today.

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