On Commonwealth Day, the Trust accelerates the fight against avoidable blindness

Today eye health experts across the Commonwealth joined forces to combat avoidable blindness, thanks to a major new grant from The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

The £7.1 million grant will enable experts from a range of institutions to come together for the first time as the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, coordinated by the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The Consortium will pursue vital research into conditions such as diabetic retinopathy which leave millions without sight, and will build capacity across the Commonwealth to tackle avoidable blindness and provide quality care to those affected or at risk.

Worldwide there are 285 million visually impaired people, of whom 39 million are blind. Yet 80% of blindness and visual impairment is curable or treatable.

Good quality eye care is a scarce resource for millions of people across the globe, including in many Commonwealth countries.

Announced on Commonwealth Day 2014, the grant by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust will support the newly created Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium to deliver an integrated programme of fellowships, research and technology.

The Consortium’s highly respected eye health organisations and academic institutions will work together to deliver the programme, which will help strengthen health systems to prevent blindness and make high quality eye care available to all.

The programme delivered by the Consortium will support:

People: strengthening capacity to deliver eye care, through training and information sharing, including Public Health for Eye Care Fellowships, Masters courses, clinical fellowships and a Commonwealth-wide diabetic retinopathy team training network;

Knowledge: deepening understanding of avoidable blindness and approaches to tackling it, through research fellowships;

Tools: development and roll out of technology such as the Portable Eye Examination Kit (Peek) system which will help identify and diagnose eye problems in any setting using only a smartphone; and OpenEyes, an electronic patient record system to replace inefficient and unreliable paper systems. These have the potential to bring about a revolution in affordable eye care.

Sir John Major, Chairman of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, said:

I am delighted that The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is able to fund this important programme. With the invaluable and diverse talents  of so many specialists – from all around the Commonwealth – we can, together, lead the fight against avoidable blindness worldwide.

Dr Matthew Burton, ophthalmologist and senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

We are incredibly pleased to be working with The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. Blindness is devastating for millions of people yet so much of it could be cured or prevented. This funding will enable organisations and individuals to team up through the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium and overcome some of the obstacles blocking access to eye care.

Colin Cook, Head of the Division of Ophthalmology of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, said:

We are very grateful to The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust for its support towards eye care and the elimination of avoidable blindness in the Commonwealth. The African saying is “How do you eat an elephant?” to which the answer is “one mouthful at a time, piece by piece, and with a lot of help from your friends.” This initiative is a wonderful illustration of this teamwork, and we are grateful for the opportunity to participate as members of that team.