The Countess of Wessex undertakes 5 days of engagements in India: the visits aim to show how programmes supported by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust are tackling avoidable blindness in premature babies in the country.
In 2012, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust was established to work across the Commonwealth to end avoidable blindness & empower young leaders. This is Her Royal Highness’s final overseas tour in her role as Vice-Patron of the Trust.
Day one of #RoyalVisitIndia began in Hyderabad, where The Countess learned more about retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a potentially avoidable eye condition that affects premature babies. The oxygen given to babies in the incubator to survive can damage their immature retinal blood vessels. Without detection and treatment, it can cause irreversible blindness.
Before the Trust’s work began in India in 2014, there was no national programme in place to prevent ROP. Now, thanks to the commitment of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the work of the Trust’s partners, national guidelines have been integrated across India’s health system to detect and treat this condition.
At Gandhi Medical College and Hospital in Hyderabad The Countess watched the ROP screening programme in action and met parents waiting to have their babies screened for ROP. Regular screening is crucial to identify babies who develop the serious stages of ROP and therefore require urgent medical intervention.
Her Royal Highness was shown LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad - a Centre of Excellence in the prevention of blindness - with Dr Jalili, who has saved the sight of over 20,000 babies.
Whilst addressing health professionals and Trust representatives at the Institute, The Countess reflected on the huge impact the ROP programme has had on countless millions of children and thanked them for all they are doing. Her Royal Highness said:
“You’ve been a fantastic example of what can be achieved and what can be achieved in partnership with other people. Thank you for everything you’re doing.”
Learn more about The Countess of Wessex's work here.
As Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, The Countess of Wessex has had the opportunity to see the impact of the Trust's #avoidableblindness initiative throughout the Commonwealth.
In 2017, HRH saw how the Trust has supported Malawi’s efforts to eliminate blinding trachoma, helping to train eye specialists to perform sight-saving surgery, fund tech like smartphone-based retinal scanning and educate communities on hygiene measures to reduce risk.
In 2014, 8 million people were at risk of trachoma. Today, Malawi has removed the risk across the country.
You can view the history of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust here.
On Day two in India, The Countess visited Niloufer Hospital - where over 10,000 preterm babies are treated each year. Now, thanks to the Trust, the Public Health Foundation of India and the Ministry of Health, guidelines have been integrated to ensure babies are ROP screened routinely.
Watch more from The Countess's second day via The Royal Family's Instagram:
In Mumbai, on Day 3 of #RoyalVisitIndia, The Countess of Wessex saw projects transforming women’s health led by two Queen's Young Leaders - Deane and Aditya.
Deane is aiming to end the embarrassment felt by women and girls about their periods through her project “Red is the new Green”. Her Royal Highness met girls and their mothers at Sir Elly Kadoorie School who have benefited from awareness raising sessions that Deane’s organisation provides, as well as improving access to sanitary products and providing eco-friendly disposal solutions. Challenging the stigma around menstruation and providing better access to sanitary products allows young women to stay in school and live full and active lives.
Later, The Countess heard from women who have benefited from “Care Mother India” to monitor their pregnancies. The app was created by Queen’s Young Leader Aditya to enable health workers to provide antenatal check-ups to women in areas with limited health resources.
Globally, around 800 women die every day of preventable causes related to pregnancy & childbirth. The app has helped expectant mothers to have healthy pregnancies and access vital healthcare when needed. Since winning the Queen’s Young Leader Award in 2018, Aditya has been able to scale up the work of the Care Nx app to cover 10 States in India and has helped over 30,000 pregnant women as a result.
The Countess also visited Sassoon Dock fish market and the Ambedkar Nagar Community to see how OSCAR Foundation are supporting young people from disadvantaged communities to become role models, instilling the value of education and creating positive social change through sports.
To find out more about the Oscar Foundation click here.
On Day 4 of #RoyalVisitIndia, The Countess of Wessex visited the United Services Institution of India, New Delhi. Her Royal Highness joined a roundtable discussion looking at the country's approach to Women, Peace and Security and addressing gender based violence in conflict.
On International Women's Day this year, The Countess formally pledged her support to champion the UK’s efforts in the Women, Peace and Security agenda (WPS) and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI).
Her Royal Highness spoke about her experience at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York and heard how India is engaging in this area.
Her Royal Highness later attended a UN Peacekeeping discussion at the Manekshaw Centre. The Countess heard from officers training Indian troops for UN Peacekeeping operations and from women peacekeepers who have been on active deployment to countries including Lebanon, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Countess was told about the efforts India is making in getting women into peacekeeping roles and tackling the barriers around this and Her Royal Highness heard first-hand from the women peacekeepers about their training and successful deployments and about some of the challenges they face on the ground and in their roles. The meeting gave the opportunity to explore how the UK and India could work more collaboratively in engaging more women in conflict resolution.
In the evening, The Countess joined the British High Commissioner at a reception to celebrate the collaborative efforts to advance eye health in India. The Countess gave a speech in which Her Royal Highness reflected on the progress achieved by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and Her Royal Highness encouraged efforts to continue and be up-scaled, to ensure that vision is brought to everyone, everywhere. The reception recognised the ambition to create a Vision Catalyst Fund driven by public and private sector organisations who are coming together to accelerate health systems change and to expand universal eye health coverage across the globe.
The Countess of Wessex began the last day of #RoyalVisitIndia at Sarvodaya Kanya Vidhylaya School, where Her Royal Highness joined students in classrooms to see lessons and hear about their daily activities. The Countess chatted with students about the Happiness curriculum, which uses mindfulness and storytelling to stimulate good mental health and promote greater tolerance and confidence for the young people. Her Royal Highness also heard about the Entrepreneurship programme which nurtures students’ creativity, problem solving and communication skills to help them to reach their full potential and the Changing Minds, Changing Moves gender discussion class - a project which aims to address gender inequalities using integrated dance and sports sessions as a creative medium. The Countess joined all of the students in the auditorium to watch a cultural dance performance.
In the afternoon, The Countess was driven on a short tour around New Delhi by Women on Wheels, a Delhi initiative which empowers young women from disadvantaged communities to become professional drivers to enable them to have better employment opportunities. The Countess also visit Gandhi Smriti, the national memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, where Her Royal Highness had a short tour to learn about his life and legacy and paid her respects at his memorial.
In the evening, to conclude #RoyalVisitIndia, The Countess attended a reception celebrating remarkable women making their mark on Indian society. Guests included Indian women from business, politics, law, NGOs, culture and sport.