Queen speaks to eye specialists to mark World Sight Day

The Queen
The Queen - (Copyright PA Archive)
22:00pm, Fri 09 Oct 2020
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The Queen has heard the heart-warming story of a blind fishmonger freed from dishonest customers after receiving sight-restoring operations thanks to a trust established in the monarch’s name.

During her first official engagement since returning to Windsor Castle, the head of state heard details about the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust’s work helping to save the sight of people across the Commonwealth.

More than two years after the Queen had cataract surgery, she marked World Sight Day – celebrated on Thursday – by joining the Countess of Wessex on a video call with eye care specialists from India, Sierra Leone, and Australia who are working with patients in their countries.

Jelikatu Mustapha, 33, one of only four ophthalmologists in Sierra Leone, told the Queen about a 67-year-old patient, blind for four years with cataracts, who could not see people were regularly cheating her.

The Queen and Sophie take part in the video call. Royal Communications

“A couple of weeks later she came back to us for follow up care with this huge bit of fish,” she said. “In the last two weeks since her surgery she had made more money than she had made in the three months before her surgery.”

“Now because she could see, and nobody could cheat her, she was making so much more money.”

The Queen, who took part in the video call on Wednesday, asked how her work had been affected by Ebola, the virus that infected more than 14,000 in Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016 and killed 3,955, more than in any other country.

“Well I was wondering, because I mean she must have experienced Ebola. So that must have been very difficult in Sierra Leone,“ the Queen said.

Ms Mustapha told her she had been studying in Kenya at the time but the lessons learnt from Ebola had helped the West African country clamp down quickly on Covid-19 with bans on internal and foreign travel, meaning only a handful of people had the disease.

Sophie added: “Certainly the experience when I went to Sierra Leone was that they were very, very conscious of having had to deal with the Ebola crisis.”

The Queen spoke from the Oak Room at Windsor Castle after returning from her summer break at Balmoral and a three-week sojourn at Sandringham with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“I’m glad that the Queen’s Jubilee has been able to do some good help for this particular thing of eye care,” she said.

The Countess, told her: “I think that’s somehow underplaying it, it’s been incredible. And certainly seeing in countries like Malawi being really able to tackle the issue of blinding trachoma.

“Many of the African nations are actually very close to being able to declare that they have got on top of and are eliminating this disease.

“So it’s very exciting. The legacy of the fund will go on for many, many years because it has also been able to highlight the problems and the importance of eye care to other governments who are actually placing it slightly further up the healthcare system than it has been before.”

Six years ago, governments and other donors from around the Commonwealth gave £100 million to the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust to mark the monarch’s 60 years on the throne and much of that money was used to treat people with sight problems.

More than 22 million people in Africa and the Pacific received antibiotics to combat trachoma, a bacterial infection that causes blindness and results in the eyelids turning inwards, and thousands more had sight-saving surgery.

Sophie, who is global ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and patron of Vision 2020, told the Queen that saving sight was cheap. “The individual treatments can be very cost effective but life changing,” she said.

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