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To mark World Sight Day on October 8th Her Majesty The Queen and Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex held a call with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and three eye health professionals from around the world.
The Queen and The Countess spoke with Natrajan Vengadesan from Aravind Eye Care System in India, Jennifer Merryweather, who works with the Indigenous Australia Program at The Fred Hollows Foundation, Australia, Dr Jalikatu Mustapha who works with UK-based NGO Sightsavers and is one of only four Ophthalmologists in Sierra Leone and Peter Holland the Chief Executive of IAPB.
Commenting on the conversation with Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness, Peter Holland, Chief Executive of IAPB said “It was a real honour to mark World Sight Day with The Queen and The Countess of Wessex and to join some amazing eye health professionals working to ensure everyone in the world has access to good quality eye health services.
“There are over a billion people globally who experience some form of sight loss and do not have access to treatment. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this situation worse, with many people not being able to access the care they need.
“This year’s theme for World Sight Day is ‘Hope in Sight’. This is important as we need to be optimistic for the future and reflect the hope and opportunity that good eye care can bring to people. Something as simple as glasses or a cataract operation can really change a person’s life. We need good eye health to ensure children are able to benefit from going to school, for people to reach their full potential in their work life and for older people to be able to stay active members of our community.
“We thank Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness this year especially as we come to the end of the successful VISION 2020 programme which The Countess has been the Global Ambassador for and for the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust which did so much to help fund eye health projects all over the Commonwealth in The Queen’s name.”
Speaking after the call Dr Jalikutu Mustapha said “I was so excited to have this opportunity to talk about eye health at such an influential level, and explain how important it is and the difference I have seen our treatments make to so many lives. It feels this opportunity could give us real leverage to do more work and help more people. It was also such an honour to meet both Her Majesty The Queen and The Countess of Wessex. I was nervous, but they really put me at ease with a really personal touch. It felt like family history repeating itself when I got the invitation, because I grew up hearing stories of how my grandfather met Her Majesty in 1961 when she visited Sierra Leone. The photo of them meeting was a centrepiece in our family room all my life, so for me to follow in his footsteps felt extra special.”
Natrajan Vengadesan said “It was a great honour and privilege to meet The Queen virtually on World Sight Day. Her Majesty was very thoughtful in hearing about eye care in India. The call has given me real energy to keep motivated and work forward with hope in sight.”
Jennifer Merryweather who spoke to The Queen from Australia in the early hours of the morning said “It’s such a privilege for me to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and organisations to advocate for change in our eye health care system. It was an incredible experience to be able to share this work with Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness.
“The Queen mentioned how difficult it must be for people in remote areas to access eye health services. It was great to be able to share some of these barriers with Her Majesty. The barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples face include long distances, a lack of public ophthalmology services, and the ‘hidden costs’ involved in accessing surgery.
“It was a very surreal experience, and I was quite nervous! But once we started talking I remembered how much I love what I do and what an incredible opportunity it was to share the work of The Fred Hollows Foundation with Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness.”
Commenting on the call Sightsavers CEO, Dr Caroline Harper, said: “We’re thrilled Dr Jalikatu had the great honour of meeting Her Majesty The Queen. We are extremely proud of all her achievements in eye care, which include being the first female National Eye Health Programme Manager in Sierra Leone, particularly given the current global health situation. This World Sight Day is an especially significant one, as the COVID-19 pandemic has meant many people have not been able to receive the sight-saving treatment they need. It means a lot to everyone at Sightsavers that Dr Jalikatu’s incredible work has received this attention and the importance of eye health recognised as we continue to respond to the global pandemic.”
Ian Wishart CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation said “In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are three times more likely to be blind than other Australians and Jennifer Merryweather and our Indigenous Australia Program team are working incredibly hard to close that gap. It is wonderful to see Jennifer recognised for her outstanding leadership and she has been instrumental in influencing innovative and positive change across the Australian eye health and vision care sector.”
Thulsiraj Ravilla, Executive Director of the Aravind Eye Care System said “We feel honoured that The Queen and The Countess of Wessex spoke with Natrajan Vengadesan about his community eye care work, especially the propagating of innovative ideas for significantly reducing the carbon footprint in eye care services. The encouragement from Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness motivates us all to further our work.”