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Queen Elizabeth II, Countess of Wessex mark World Sight Day during video chat with eye health professionals


Queen Elizabeth II and the Countess of Wessex on Thursday marked World Sight Day during a video chat with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and eye health professionals.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Countess of Wessex on Thursday marked World Sight Day during a video chat with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and eye health professionals.

The Queen and Countess spoke with Natrajan Vengadesan, from Aravind Eye Care System in India; Jennifer Merryweather, who works with the Indigenous Australia Program at The Fred Hollows Foundation, Australia; Jalikatu Mustapha, MD, who works with UK-based NGO Sightsavers and is one of only four ophthalmologists practicing in Sierra Leone; and Peter Holland, chief executive of IAPB.

The call took place via video call on Wednesday to mark World Sight Day on Thursday.

“It was a real honor to mark World Sight Day with the Queen and the Countess of Wessex and to join some amazing eye health professionals working to ensure everyone in the world has access to good quality eye health services,” Holland said in a release.

In the release, Holland also noted that there are more than a billion people globally who experience some form of sight loss and do not have access to treatment.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has made this situation worse, with many people not being able to access the care they need,” he said.

The theme for World Sight Day 2020 is “Hope in Sight.’ Holland said in the statement this is important as “we need to be optimistic for the future and reflect the hope and opportunity that good eye care can bring to people.”

Holland explained that something as simple as glasses or a cataract operation could be a life-changing event for a person.

“We need good eye health to ensure children are able to benefit from going to school, for people to reach their full potential in their work life and for older people to be able to stay active members of our community,” he said in the release.

Holland also thanked the Queen and Countess for their participation. He noted that the Countess has been the Global Ambassador for the VISION 2020 program and for Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. These organizations have helped fund eye health projects across the Commonwealth in the name of the Queen.

Following the call, Mustaphe expressed gratitude in being able to have the opportunity to talk about eye health and explain the impact it can have on lives.

“It feels this opportunity could give us real leverage to do more work and help more people,” she said. “I was nervous, but they really put me at ease with a really personal touch. It felt like family history repeating itself when I got the invitation, because I grew up hearing stories of how my grandfather met Her Majesty in 1961 when she visited Sierra Leone. The photo of them meeting was a centerpiece in our family room all my life, so for me to follow in his footsteps felt extra special.”

Natrajan Vengadesan said “the call has given me real energy to keep motivated and work forward with hope in sight.”

Merryweather participated in the call from Australia, where it was held in the early hours of the morning.

“It is such a privilege for me to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and organizations to advocate for change in our eye health care system,” she said in the release. “It was an incredible experience to be able to share this work with Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness.”

The release noted that during the call, Queen Elizabeth mentioned how difficult it must be for people in remote areas to access eye health services.

“It was great to be able to share some of these barriers with Her Majesty,” Merryweather said. “The barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples face include long distances, a lack of public ophthalmology services, and the ‘hidden costs’ involved in accessing surgery.”

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