The year 2012 marked Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee as Queen and as Head of the Commonwealth. It was the latter – her sixty years’ remarkable service to the Commonwealth – that prompted the creation of the Trust, with the blessing of Commonwealth Heads of Government. The Trust’s mission was clear: to mark and celebrate The Queen’s contribution by enriching the lives of people from all backgrounds across the Commonwealth.
The decision was made early on that the Trust would be time-limited, spending out all the resources at its disposal in programmes lasting no more than five years, and then closing. By adopting this “spend out” approach the Trust could concentrate its resources, keep overheads to a minimum and aim for maximum, game-changing impact. For the same reason it decided to focus on just two programmes.
In a famous speech at the age of just 21 the then Princess Elizabeth said to the people of the Commonwealth: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service” – and has been true to her word. What should the Trust’s two programmes be, to reflect adequately her remarkable service to the Commonwealth, and create a fitting and lasting legacy?
They would need to have an impact across the entire Commonwealth – 53 countries spread across the globe. They would need to be ambitious, able to secure widespread support, touching many lives now and in the future – and achievable within five years with the resources at the Trust’s disposal.
For the second many options were considered. But the case for tackling avoidable blindness was compelling. It fulfilled our criteria. Besides, the expertise was there; the solutions were there, and were tried, tested and affordable. Yet tragically people were still losing their sight when it could be avoided. By supporting this cause we could bring about systems change that would endure. The Trust had found its path.
Our eye health programmes ended in 2019. We were privileged to work with extraordinary partners and achieved everything we had planned. 11 Commonwealth countries on track to eliminate blinding trachoma. 13 providing screening and treatment for diabetic retinopathy. Programmes in India to preserve the sight of infants born prematurely, and national guidelines to underpin further rollout across the country. Links forged, and capacity built, right across the Commonwealth. And a commitment by Commonwealth Heads of Government, meeting in London in 2018, to take action towards access to quality eye care for all.
The Trust will close in early 2020. We are grateful to the eye health sector for its welcome and for travelling this road with us. We bow out, confident that your vital work will continue and in time end the scandal of avoidable blindness.
Our parting message to you? Do not hide your light under a bushel. The more decision makers hear your compelling message and act on it, the faster progress will be. We can stop people from going blind from causes that can be entirely avoided.
Image on top: The Countess of Wessex, Highness Sophie meets the mother and her retinopathy of prematurity(ROP) baby during her recent visit to the Govt Hospital, Hyderabad, India/ Photo by Rajesh Pandey