HRH The Countess of Wessex begins visit to Trust projects in Malawi

HRH The Countess of Wessex begins visit to Trust projects in Malawi

Lilongwe, Monday 13 March: Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex GCVO, Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, today, Commonwealth Day, begins a visit to Trust programmes in Malawi which are working to end avoidable blindness and champion young leaders.

 The Commonwealth brings together 52 independent member countries to promote the common interests of its citizens. It contains over 2.4 billion people – about a quarter of the world’s population – 60% of whom are under the age of 30.

In 2011, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust was set up by Commonwealth Heads of Government to enrich the lives of citizens and secure a lasting legacy of positive social change in honour of Her Majesty The Queen. Today, the Trust is working in all 52 Commonwealth countries, including Malawi, to empower young leaders and ensure that people no longer go blind from causes that can be avoided: Four out of five people across the Commonwealth who are blind as so as a result of causes that can be prevented or treated.

The centrepiece of the Trust’s programme in Malawi is its initiative to eliminate blinding trachoma: a cruel, painful, infectious disease that has robbed people of their sight for hundreds of years.  In 2014, when the initiative started, 8 million people in Malawi were at risk.  Today, thanks to the coordinated efforts and excellent progress of the Ministry of Health and partners supported by the Trust, no one in Malawi now need lose their sight to blinding trachoma.

To reach this point, a major programme of mass drug administration has been carried out to populations at risk; surgery provided for those in the advanced stages of the disease and improvements initiated to hygiene and sanitation in the affected communities. Many of the Trust’s partners, including the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, UK Aid and Lions Clubs International Federation, have been involved across the country, working closely together under the leadership of the Ministry of Health.

During her time in Malawi, HRH The Countess of Wessex will visit Chulu in the Kasungu district, previously a trachoma endemic region, to see the work of the initiative and how the communities themselves, including women and schoolchildren, have played a big part in making the changes necessary to stop the spread of the disease. 

While in Malawi, The Countess will also see how the Trust is working to strengthen the country’s eye health services for the long term. The Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, established by the Trust in 2014 and coordinated by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is providing Malawian specialists with scholarships and fellowships; linking specialist teams across the Commonwealth; and developing new technology such as Peek, the Portable Eye Examination Kit, which makes it possible to screen patients for eye conditions using a smartphone in any rural or urban setting. 

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.”

The Countess will also see in action two of Malawi’s Queen’s Young Leaders, who have been recognised for their exceptional leadership qualities and the work they’re undertaking to change the lives of others for the better.

Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, said: 

“Malawi’s Queen’s Young Leaders are already changing lives for the better and have the potential to achieve much more.  We are proud to be able to introduce these remarkable young people to our Vice Patron, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, so that she can see first-hand the difference they are making”.

This year’s winner from Malawi, Virginia Khunguni, will show The Countess her project “Girls Arise for Change”, which is teaching skills to young women affected by violence and lack of education to enable them to set up their own businesses and support themselves and their families.  The Countess will also meet with 2016 Malawian winner Madalo Banda, founder of the project Loud Ink which provides young writers with a platform to engage in social issues through short stories. 

 Speaking about the The Countess’ visit to Malawi, Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust said: 

“We are delighted that our Vice Patron is visiting Malawi at this time, as Malawi reaches a milestone in the fight against blinding trachoma. It is a real cause for celebration that from now on no one in Malawi need lose their sight from this ancient, painful, infectious disease and an example we hope other countries in the Commonwealth affected by blinding trachoma will follow. The Trust’s contribution to the elimination of blinding trachoma across the Commonwealth is a very substantial one, and will be a central part of the legacy we’re working to create in honour of Her Majesty The Queen as Head of the Commonwealth.”