HRH The Countess of Wessex hosts reception in New Delhi to celebrate achievements in eye care across India
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HRH The Countess of Wessex hosts reception in New Delhi to celebrate achievements in eye care across India

In her final engagement in India for The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex spoke at an evening reception at the residence of the British High Commissioner, Sir Dominic Asquith, to celebrate the achievements of the Trust and its partnership with Standard Chartered to improve eye care across India. 

The event, attended by senior government officials, High Commissioners, experts in eye health, major donors and philanthropists, provided an opportunity to shine a light on the transformational work the Trust has initiated alongside the Ministry of Health in India and with the support of its biggest corporate donor, Standard Chartered, to save the sight of thousands of babies born prematurely in India. 

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a major cause of childhood blindness, affecting only babies born prematurely as the blood vessels in the back of the eye have not had a chance to develop fully before birth. Regular screening and treatment in the first 30 days of life is crucial to prevent a life of total and irreversible blindness. The problem in India is vast and growing, as more and more babies are surviving due to improved neonatal care, but where knowledge of ROP and its causes are lacking.

The Trust and Standard Chartered formed a strategic partnership in 2013 to eliminate avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth. Through their programme in India, which is led by the Ministry of Health and delivered through the Public Health Foundation of India, national guidelines have now been introduced, to ensure that babies born prematurely receive screening and treatment for ROP as part of their standard neonatal care. Such services have now been set up in 21 hospitals across four districts in India, serving a population of over 47 million people.

Speaking at the event, The Countess reflected on the progress achieved by the Trust and its partners, and encouraged efforts to continue and to be taken to a greater scale so that vision is brought to everyone, everywhere. The Countess has been Vice-Patron of the Trust – a time-limited charitable foundation - since 2015 and has championed efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness for many years. The Trust is now in its final year having saved the sight of many millions of people across the Commonwealth and made sustainable improvements to eye health systems.

In her speech, The Countess welcomed new efforts being undertaken by private sector organisations - including Standard Chartered - philanthropists and the eye health sector, to develop a Vision Catalyst Fund. On this new venture she said, "the mission of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is to leave a lasting legacy, owned by the whole Commonwealth in honour of Her Majesty The Queen. It is doing so by working with governments to curb blindness from avoidable causes. It is giving new hope to people across the world, releasing their potential to learn, to work and to lead fulfilled and productive lives. The Trust's work is almost at an end, but a Vision Catalyst Fund can build upon and amplify what has been achieved in the name of one of the world's most respected Monarchs."

The ambition is for the Vision Catalyst Fund to begin pilot programmes in 2020, and to operate as an independent charitable organisation at full scale by 2022.