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The Countess of Wessex, IAPB’s Global Ambassador, congratulates The Gambia for their elimination of blinding trachoma

Published: 26.04.2021

The Countess of Wessex, Global Ambassador for IAPB, has celebrated The Gambia’s achievement of eliminating trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. Last week The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that The Gambia is the second sub-Saharan African country, following Ghana, to successfully eliminate the disease, declaring it is no longer a public health problem for the country.

The Countess joined a video call last month with key representatives from The Gambian Government and the international sight community, who have worked collaboratively for decades in partnerships to eliminate the disease. Successful partnerships between the country’s Ministry of Health and the National Eye Health Programme, communities, the International Trachoma Initiative, WHO, the Medical Research Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UNICEF and Sightsavers have enabled the country to become free of the tropical disease which, if left untreated, can cause blindness.

Praising the achievement, IAPB’s Global Ambassador, The Countess of Wessex said:
“In our lifetime, to see something that has destroyed so many lives actually being beaten is wonderful.
This success is firstly about collaboration, but each success is a home-grown success from each individual country. Yes, the international community came together but it had to rely on each country to make it it’s own. Without the commitment from the top-down and the bottom-up none of this would have come about.
We stand in awe of what has been achieved”.

Reflecting on The Queen’s support for tackling avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth, The Countess said:
“Her Majesty is so supportive of this kind of work. For her to have chosen sight as the main pillar of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Fund during its time was so reaffirming.
She has taken a personal interest in that work. When I was traveling on her behalf to be able to come back and tell her what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned, that work that was going on… She loves collaboration; she loves it when people get together and make things happen.”

Joining The Countess of Wessex on the video call to mark The Gambia’s milestone was: H.E. Dr Isatou Touray, Vice-President of The Gambia; Dr Caroline Harper CBE, Trustee IAPB & Sightsavers CEO; Dr Anthony Solomon, Chief Scientist Neglected Tropical Diseases at WHO; Dr David Mabey, Professor of Communicable Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Sarjo Kanyi, National Eye Health Programme Manager, The Gambia’s Ministry of Health; Caroline Roan, The Pfizer Foundation; Dr Agatha Aboe, Sightsavers; Balla Musa Joof, Sightsavers.

The Gambia joins 11 countries which have eliminated trachoma, including Malawi, Oman, Morocco and Mexico. Yet there are still 137 million people at risk of trachoma globally. But with continued international efforts to tackle the disease, it is possible that we will see its elimination in our lifetime.

Watch the videos from the call below.