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Sophie’s special message on Commonwealth Day

The Countess of Wessex has written an open letter to the people of Malawi in honour of an important milestone.

“I am delighted to hear the news that it is now official: Malawi has removed the risk of trachoma across the country,” she said.

Trachoma is a bacterial infection that – when left untreated – leads to eventual blindness. This contagious disease has been a prevalent issue in communities without access to clean water or healthcare. According to the Mayo Clinic, infection rates among children under five-years-old can be 60 per cent or more in areas that are hotspots for the disease.

Sophie is Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, which was established in 2012 and aims to end avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth and empower young leaders.

The rest of the Countess of Wessex’s letter reads:

For millennia, trachoma has blighted the lives of millions. Slowly and painfully, people lose their sight.  They become unable to leave their homes, go to work and provide for their families.  Children miss school as they have to stay at home to care for their relatives. Communities are trapped in a cycle of poverty, moving from one generation to the next.

But now trachoma is preventable and treatable.  With leadership and a concerted effort over several years, it can be eliminated.

This is what is happening in Malawi. Thanks to the unwavering leadership of Malawi’s Ministry of Health,  the committed efforts of organisations working closely together within the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, and the communities themselves, the people of Malawi are no longer at risk of going blind from trachoma.

In 2014, when The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust – of which I am Vice-Patron – began work in Malawi, 8 million people were at risk of losing their sight to trachoma. Now there are none.

When I visited the country in 2017, the last few cases of trachoma were being located and treated. For the next two years, the country will carefully monitor and manage any new cases of trachoma.  All being well, in 2020 the World Health Organisation will be able to certify that the disease is eliminated as a public health problem in Malawi. What an achievement that will be.

Over 5,600 people have been provided with sight-saving surgery.  Over 8 million people have been treated with antibiotics to stop the spread of infection.  Sanitation and access to clean water have been improved.  Communities across the country have been informed of the hygiene measures to take in their daily lives, such as face-washing, to remain trachoma-free.

Since I visited Malawi in 2017, all 53 Commonwealth countries have committed to take action towards achieving accessible eye health for all and to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem by 2020. Malawi shows that it can be done. I commend Malawi for reaching this milestone and I am filled with hope that other Commonwealth nations where the disease is endemic are equally committed to ending this ancient scourge.

To the Government of Malawi, the organisations involved, the surgeons, nurses, community volunteers, teachers, school children, and everyone else who is part of this momentous effort; congratulations.”

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