Trachoma has blinded 2 million people: The Countess of Wessex is on a mission to stop it

On Wednesday, Sophie, Countess of Wessex wrote a piece for the Huffington Post regarding her work with trachoma, a contagious bacterial infection of the eye which often leads to blindness in lesser developed countries. The Countess recently visited Malawi and caught up with the ongoing projects, and has updated us on the successful work of eradicating the condition in the country.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex is hoping to combat global trachoma and end preventative blindness. Picture by Stephen Lock / i-Images

“For most of us an eyelash occasionally rubbing against your eye is a mild and momentary irritation,” writes Sophie. “But try to imagine if all of your eyelashes were constantly and painfully rubbing against your eye, scratching and scraping the surface of your eyeball with every single blink and progressively damaging your cornea until you eventually went blind.

“This is the shocking reality for those who live with untreated advanced trachoma. The disease is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness and is responsible for the visual impairment of an estimated 2.2million people, of whom 1.2million are irreversibly blind.”

However, treating and preventing the disease is remarkably cheap and fast, and with the right publicity can be completely eliminated. The infection is most prominent in Africa, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex is on a mission to stop it on behalf of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Malawi is one of the poorest, least-developed nations in the world; despite this, it is currently on course to completely eliminate trachoma by the end of 2018.

“Now, an historic milestone has almost been reached; Malawi is on track to eliminate the disease as a public health problem by the end of next year. Very soon no one in the country need lose their sight, or their livelihoods, as a result of blinding trachoma,” the Countess says in her article. She also works with Vision 2020, a global initiative that aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020, and is a Global Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

This result is due to the leadership of the country’s health ministry and The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. The Trust has been involved in educating both adults and children to wash their faces and hands, a very simple but effective way of preventing the disease.

In addition to this, the Trust has helped provide basic antibiotic medicines which can quickly treat the infection. Malawi is an excellent example of the achievements of the Diamond Jubilee Trust, set up in honour of Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne in 2012. The Trust also aims to tackle diabetic and premature retinopathy (damage to the retina from diabetes or premature birth, which also often leads to blindness).

The Trust’s mission statement says, “With a five-year time frame in which to deliver successful programmes, our aim is to leave a lasting legacy, owned by the whole Commonwealth, in honour of Her Majesty The Queen. Through grants, advocacy and convening, we are working with partners to create sustainable improvements to the lives of Commonwealth citizens, in line with Commonwealth priorities. Our focus is on the empowerment of a new generation of Commonwealth leaders, and the ending of avoidable blindness.”

Trachoma is currently an endemic in 54 countries across the planet, yet we are fully aware that global elimination is possible, Malawi is a clear case in point. With the leadership of the Trust, working closely with Commonwealth governments and passionate public figures, such as The Countess of Wessex, elimination of the disease may not be so far away.

Read Sophie’s article here.

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