The Countess of Wessex started her five-day tour of India today in Hyderabad, visiting hospitals to see how they are working to prevent avoidable blindness in premature babies.
The Countess, who is travelling in her role as Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, took to Twitter to share her thoughts on the experience.
“I was so thrilled to see the work supported by @qejubileetrust in action today screening & saving premature babies’ sight from Retinopathy of Prematurity,” she said. “Congratulations to @MoHFW_INDIA, @thePHFI & the Trust for creating this remarkable legacy for the people of India.”
According to Buckingham Palace, “Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is a major cause of childhood blindness affecting thousands of preterm babies born in India – home to the highest number of preterm births in the world.”
During her visits Monday, she witnessed screening and treatments given to babies at risk of the avoidable condition. Screenings, in particular, are essential in ensuring babies who do display signs of ROP get the urgent medical help they need in order to prevent blindness.
Sophie met with eye health professionals as well as children and families who have been impacted by the condition.
Wearing a protective hair cover and gown, the countess leaned in and smiled at prematurely born babies as she toured Gandhi Medical College and Hospital. Children’s eye health is a concern that has touched the Countess of Wessex personally, as her daughter Lady Louise – who also came into the world prematurely – was born with a condition called strabismus. This caused her to be unable to align both eyes simultaneously, creating a severe squint. It was surgically corrected in 2014, and the 15-year-old now has perfect sight.
The Countess of Wessex also held meetings at L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), a non-profit eye health facility which is a WHO Collaborating Centre for Prevention of Blindness. There Sophie met with Dr Jalali, a global leader in ROP who has saved the sight of more than 20,000 babies to date across India.
“To see for myself what you’re doing, it’s fantastic. You can read a lot of information, you can read a lot of papers, but it’s not until you actually see it for yourself,” Sophie said during a discussion with Dr Jalali and others at LVPEI. “And what’s so exciting … is that you’re creating a lasting legacy. The Trust has always wanted to have something that will have a legacy on into the future, and you’re creating those yourselves.”
She also participated in a video conference call with regional hospitals to hear how the centre works with other medical facilities in India to fight ROP.
In the evening, the Countess of Wessex met with graduating midwives during a reception at the residence of the Deputy High Commissioner, Andrew Fleming.
The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust was created in 2012 to celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. Its aim is to work toward eliminating avoidable blindness, with a focus on blindness caused by trachoma, blindness caused by diabetes, and blindness affecting premature babies. The Trust’s planned closure is in 2020.
The Countess of Wessex will continue her tour with visits to Mumbai and New Delhi before returning to the UK on Friday, 3 May.