Lord Chartres, a trustee of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, saw work taking place to eliminate trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. Uganda is one of 12 Commonwealth countries where the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative is working to eliminate this blinding disease with the help of Sightsavers, which manages the grants for the project.
During the visit, Lord Chartres met people whose eyesight has been saved through surgery. He spent time in Kiringa village meeting the Ambassadors of Change, a group of local residents who work in their communities to raise awareness about how trachoma is spread, and how to prevent it through hygienic practices such as hand and face washing. Lord Chartres also saw how ‘school health clubs’, supported by the Trust, teach young people about trachoma prevention and enable them to pass on the message to their families and communities.
Lord Chartres said: “What has been achieved by the partners involved in the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative in just four years is quite remarkable. I have been struck by both the dedication and determination of the individuals I have met in Kiringa village, who are proof of what can be achieved when people, particularly those most affected by trachoma, come together to fight disease.”
Before the work of the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative began in 2014, 10 million Ugandans were at risk of trachoma. Thanks to the efforts of partners, the Ugandan Ministry of Health now estimates that less than 300,000 people are at risk of catching the disease. The country is on track to reach the surveillance period of trachoma elimination by 2019. This means medication is no longer needed to treat the disease – instead, surveillance is carried out to make sure no new cases occur.
“Thanks to the excellent leadership by the Ministry of Health, eliminating an ancient disease in Uganda is within reach,” said Lord Chartres. “Uganda is an example of how Commonwealth governments have the potential to bring vision to everyone, everywhere. I hope that, collectively, many other Commonwealth nations will follow in Uganda’s footsteps and increase efforts to prevent avoidable blindness, so as to unlock the full potential of millions of people, for the benefit of themselves, their communities and their countries.”
Trachoma is most commonly found in poor, rural communities where people have limited access to clean water and healthcare. Repeated infections can cause scarring under the eyelids, which turns the eyelids inwards. With every blink, eyelashes scrape the surface of the eye, causing great pain. If left untreated, trachoma can lead to irreversible blindness.
Over the past four years, the Trachoma Initiative – working with the Ministry of Health and partners including Sightsavers, The Carter Centre, RTI, Water Missions Uganda, World Vision, the World Health Organization and community volunteers – has worked in 33 Ugandan districts, provided sight-saving surgery to nearly 27,000 people, trained 65 surgeons, and supported nearly 5,000 case finders to identify people in need of treatment.