Safira's story: Two years on since meeting HRH The Countess of Wessex
Two years ago on Commonwealth Day, Safira, now 14 years old, met HRH The Countess of Wessex when she visited Malawi to see work of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust’s Trachoma Initiative. Like many school children across Malawi, Safira has played a significant role in the country’s efforts to eliminate trachoma – a painful, blinding, yet preventable disease - across the country.
Safira, who lives with her father, two brothers and sister, was selected as a trachoma champion by her school in 2016 for her good performance in class and their belief that she would be able to guide others and she is proud to still be doing the role today. In her role she teaches her friends about the dangers of trachoma and how they can prevent it. At home, she is approached by her fellow students to speak to their parents about trachoma and what they need to do to avoid the blinding disease. Safira says,
“I enjoy educating my Malawians and helping them know how they can prevent trachoma. Because this is the very big problem in Malawi. If people are healthy we will progress. Trachoma can be prevented by doing some simple things like covering the toilet lids or washing your face with soap. At first, people didn’t like to wash their faces with soap, clean their toilets, or their homes and people drank water from the river. But now, people are trying their best to wash their faces with soap, cover their toilet holes and clean their houses.”
In 2014, 8 million people were at risk of going blind from trachoma in Malawi. Today, Malawi has accelerated efforts to such an extent that the vast majority of people are no longer at risk of losing their sight to the disease. Government health systems have been strengthened to manage any future cases and awareness of the disease has increased. As long as the prevalence of the disease remains at this level over the next few years, the country will be able to celebrate the huge achievement of having officially eliminated trachoma as a public health problem, as certified by the World Health Organization.
Safira says, "I feel happy about Malawi being in the new phase because this disease is dangerous. It is important to join hands to eliminate it because eyes are important. A person cannot work or do any job without eyes. But if a person is feeling well and the eyes are good, they can do anything.”
Almost 13 million people in Malawi have been treated with antibiotics to stop the spread of infection, and more than 4,800 people have received surgery to ease their pain and stop further vision loss.
Safira remembers the day she met The Countess of Wessex very clearly because she felt so happy and proud. Referring to The Countess as “a role model”, Safira explained how important it is that people like The Countess are shining a light on the issue, “It is important because this can help us in Malawi to understand that trachoma is indeed a dangerous disease so that we can join hands to eliminate it.”
Because of efforts of people like Safira, more communities in Malawi are now trachoma-free, allowing people the freedom to work, support their families, access education and interact with the world as they would wish to.