Eye health groups call on Commonwealth governments to commit to protecting sight

March 2018
A group of smiling children in a classroom in Uganda.
In Uganda, Anna Grace (centre) takes part in her school’s health club, which teaches students how to protect themselves from trachoma.

On Commonwealth Day 2018, six leading eye health organisations have come together under the banner ‘Vision for the Commonwealth’ to call on Commonwealth leaders to commit to bringing eye care to all.

Ahead of April’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, Sightsavers, the Fred Hollows Foundation, Peek Vision, Clearly and the International Coalition for Trachoma Control have said urgent action is needed now to prevent the number of people who are blind or have poor eyesight from trebling by 2050.

Across all Commonwealth countries, 85 million people are blind or have very poor vision. Yet simple, inexpensive solutions exist to prevent or treat many types of blindness. The six organisations behind Vision for the Commonwealth are asking that at CHOGM, leaders build on progress achieved and commit to a Commonwealth that brings eye care to all. They are calling for each country to take one significant action towards that goal by 2020.

It’s estimated that for every £1 invested in a child’s eyesight, more than £150 is returned over the child’s lifetime. Vision for the Commonwealth is asking leaders to prioritise vision, and commit to tackling avoidable blindness and poor eyesight, to transform the lives of millions of people across the Commonwealth, and the world.

One major cause of visual impairment globally is trachoma, with 182 million people worldwide at risk of going blind from the disease. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is easily transmitted from person to person, usually via flies, or via dirty hands or faces. If trachoma is not treated, it leads to scarring that causes the eyelashes to turn inwards, where they scrape the surface of the eye, causing terrible pain. This process can damage the cornea to such an extent that people eventually lose their sight completely.

The Trachoma Initiative, funded by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and managed by Sightsavers in Africa, is making significant progress towards eliminating  trachoma in Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique.  The programme supports ‘health clubs’ in schools to teach young people about the importance of hygiene and hand washing to prevent trachoma infection. In turn, students such as 16-year-old Anna Grace, from Karamoja in northern Uganda, are acting as ambassadors in their communities, raising awareness about how to prevent trachoma from spreading.

Anna Grace’s story

“A few months ago both my mother and father had trachoma. They were in pain and had very red eyes. Because of my learning at the school health clubs, I understood what was happening, where they should get help and I knew how to protect myself and my siblings from also getting it. My parents were given antibiotic treatment and now no longer have trachoma.

“My personal experience of trachoma really motivates me to take part in my school health club and tell other people in my community about how to prevent trachoma. I enjoy the responsibility of being part of the club, because I want to be part of change in my community.”

85 million
people across the Commonwealth are blind or have poor vision

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