98 million people in the Commonwealth are blind or have low vision.
In November 2013, avoidable blindness featured at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting possibly for the first time. Commonwealth Heads of Government endorsed the focus of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust on avoidable blindness, and encouraged it to work with others with the aim of making a “decisive contribution” to the elimination of avoidable blindness. An ambitious mandate, which the Trust can only deliver with the engagement and support of many others – and first and foremost, Commonwealth Governments themselves.
Thus we were delighted that the Trust’s Chief Executive, Dr Astrid Bonfield, had the opportunity to address Commonwealth Health Ministers at their annual gathering on the eve of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and seek their advice and support.
Dr Bonfield spoke about the Trust’s five-year programmes on avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth:
- The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Trachoma Initiative, tackling blinding trachoma in Commonwealth countries in Africa and the Pacific, and in Australia;
- The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Diabetic Retinopathy Initiative in South Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific;
- The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Retinopathy of Prematurity Initiative in India;
- The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Fellowships, Research and Technology Initiative to strengthen eye care, including the creation of the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, a group of respected eye health institutions from across the Commonwealth
The World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan sets out a blueprint for strengthening eye care – essential to sustain and amplify the gains made through the Trust’s and other programmes. It includes a global target of a reduction in prevalence of avoidable blindness and low vision by 25% by 2019, from the baseline of 2010.
For the Commonwealth this means reducing the number of persons with blindness or low vision to no more than 78m by the year 2019, some 20m fewer than there are now.
Dr Bonfield said: “Advances in science and knowhow make this achievable. Numbers are already going down. With commitment and a vast store of varied experience the Commonwealth is well placed to show the way. There should be substantive progress to report to the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta in November 2015.”