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Commonwealth Health Ministers hear of the Trust’s progress to end avoidable blindness
A patient with diabetes has his eyes screened at the Regional Eye Centre in Honiara

Commonwealth Health Ministers hear of the Trust’s progress to end avoidable blindness

Today at the Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM) in Geneva, the Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, the Trust, Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE presented progress achieved towards ending avoidable blindness and reflected on the Commonwealth’s efforts to bring vision to everyone, everywhere.

In April 2018, Commonwealth Heads of Government, at their meeting in the United Kingdom, took a historic step in committing for the first time “to take action towards achieving access to quality eye care for all, including eliminating blinding trachoma by 2020”. At the meeting, Commonwealth Health Ministers were tasked with reviewing progress on this commitment regularly and reporting on it to future Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM).

85 million people in the Commonwealth today are blind or have very poor vision. Globally, 2.5 billion people lack access to glasses, 1.1 billion of whom need glasses to improve their near vision. As the population of the Commonwealth grows and ages, these numbers are set to rise sharply, meaning millions more people around the Commonwealth and across the world will experience often devastating social, educational and economic hardships as a result of poor eyesight.

At CHOGM in 2018, in addition to the collective commitment on eye health, which is seen as a landmark moment in the movement to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to vision, significant commitments were made by individual Governments to support this goal:

  • The Government of Botswana committed to initiate a programme to screen and treat every school child in the country by 2020;
  • The Government of Pakistan committed to support a national programme to eliminate preventable blindness across the country;
  • The Government of Rwanda committed to extend eye screening services to all children; and
  • The Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda expressed publicly his commitment to promoting eye health.

Since CHOGM, Commonwealth countries have achieved important milestones in the fight against trachoma. Ghana became the first Commonwealth country to be validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the elimination of trachoma as a public health problem. Thanks to the leadership of countries and support from stakeholders of the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (WHO GET2020), a further 10 Commonwealth countries across Africa and the Pacific are expected to reach trachoma elimination thresholds by 2020.

At today’s meeting in Geneva, Dr Bonfield commended Health Ministers on progress achieved to date and spoke of the Trust’s work across the Commonwealth in support of their efforts to save sight and embed eye care into health systems. Dr Bonfield reported that since 2014 when the Trust began working in alliance with partners across the Commonwealth to tackle avoidable forms of blindness:

  • 19 million people living in the Commonwealth have received treatment to prevent blindness from trachoma;
  • Malawi, Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are soon to apply to the World Health Organization to be verified as trachoma-free;
  • Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda – all previously classed as being trachoma endemic countries – are on track to follow in their footsteps in successfully eliminating this ancient disease;
  • 13 Commonwealth countries now have regular screening and treatment for diabetic retinopathy – a complication of diabetes which can cause irreversible blindness but is treatable if caught in time – as part of their health systems for the millions of citizens currently living with diabetes and for those in future generations who may have the condition;
  • India has adopted and implemented national health care guidelines which are ensuring that premature babies born today and in the future whose eyesight is at risk receive screening and treatment as a standard and integral part of their neo-natal care.
  • 47 Commonwealth countries are working together through the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium to improve eye health globally.

Addressing Commonwealth Health Ministers, Dr Astrid Bonfield said:

“The commitment to quality eye care made last year by Commonwealth Heads of Government is ground breaking and unparalleled.  On behalf of all those who, as a result of the efforts of Commonwealth governments, are now able to enjoy good vision and all the advantages it brings, we thank you for your leadership and engagement.

Much has been achieved across the Commonwealth by the Trust, its partners and all those who are working to ensure every single citizen has access to quality eye care throughout their life. But there remains much to be done in tackling avoidable blindness and poor eyesight if the lives of millions of people worldwide are to be transformed. By following words with actions, the Commonwealth can continue to lead the way in bringing vision to everyone, everywhere.”

 In 2012, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust was established by Commonwealth Heads of Governments to honour Her Majesty’s lifetime of Service to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Working to a five-year timeframe, the Trust’s mission has been to work in alliance towards eliminating avoidable blindness and to empower a new generation of young leaders. In January 2020, the Trust will close having successfully completed its five-year programmes and created a lasting legacy in honour of The Queen. 

Find out more about the Trust’s impact across the Commonwealth here.

 The Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM) is the annual meeting of health ministers from across the Commonwealth countries. The meeting reviews activity and events from the previous year and provides a platform for countries to bring issues of health relevance to the attention of their Commonwealth partners and peers.