Published 11 March 2019

The Countess of Wessex has written an open letter to the people of Malawi congratulating them on their work to help prevent avoidable blindness - a particular area of focus for her work.

The letter was released on Commonwealth Day and cites Malawi as having set an important example for other Commonwealth nations to follow. 

The Countess of Wessex is Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. The charitable foundation was established in 2012 by Commonwealth Heads of Government to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth at the time of her Diamond Jubilee.

The countess of wessex

"I am delighted to hear the news that it is now official: Malawi has removed the risk of trachoma across the country.

For millennia, trachoma has blighted the lives of millions. Slowly and painfully, people lose their sight.  They become unable to leave their homes, go to work and provide for their families.  Children miss school as they have to stay at home to care for their relatives. Communities are trapped in a cycle of poverty, moving from one generation to the next.

But now trachoma is preventable and treatable.  With leadership and a concerted effort over several years, it can be eliminated.

This is what is happening in Malawi. Thanks to the unwavering leadership of Malawi’s Ministry of Health,  the committed efforts of organisations working closely together within the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, and the communities themselves, the people of Malawi are no longer at risk of going blind from trachoma.

In 2014, when The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust – of which I am Vice-Patron – began work in Malawi, 8 million people were at risk of losing their sight to trachoma. Now there are none.

When I visited the country in 2017, the last few cases of trachoma were being located and treated. For the next two years, the country will carefully monitor and manage any new cases of trachoma.  All being well, in 2020 the World Health Organisation will be able to certify that the disease is eliminated as a public health problem in Malawi. What an achievement that will be.

Over 5,600 people have been provided with sight-saving surgery.  Over 8 million people have been treated with antibiotics to stop the spread of infection.  Sanitation and access to clean water have been improved.  Communities across the country have been informed of the hygiene measures to take in their daily lives, such as face-washing, to remain trachoma-free.

Since I visited Malawi in 2017, all 53 Commonwealth countries have committed to take action towards achieving accessible eye health for all, and to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem by 2020. Malawi shows that it can be done. I commend Malawi for reaching this milestone and I am filled with hope that other Commonwealth nations where the disease is endemic are equally committed to ending this ancient scourge.

To the Government of Malawi, the organisations involved, the surgeons, nurses, community volunteers, teachers, school children, and everyone else who is part of this momentous effort; congratulations." 

HRH The Countess of Wessex GCVO

Find out more about The Countess of Wessex's work here.