Lord Chartres, former Bishop of London, congratulates Uganda on progress made to eliminate blinding trachoma across the country

5 March 2018

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The Right Rev and Right Hon Lord Richard Chartres KCVO, Trustee of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and former Bishop of London, recently visited the Iganga District of Uganda to see the work taking place to eliminate trachoma.

Uganda is one of 12 Commonwealth countries where The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (the Trust) Trachoma Initiative is working to eliminate this blinding disease. Trachoma is caused by a bacterium and is spread by close contact with an infected person or through transmission by eye-seeking flies. It is most commonly found in poor, rural communities where people have limited access to clean water and healthcare and is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.

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 and if left untreated, trachoma can lead to irreversible blindness.

Over the last four years, the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative – working with the Ministry of Health and partners including The Carter Centre, Sightsavers, RTI, Water Missions Uganda, World Vision, the World Health Organisation and community volunteers – has worked in 33 Ugandan districts, provided sight-saving surgery to nearly 27,000 people, trained 65 surgeons, and mobilised nearly 5,000 case finders to identify those in need of treatment.

In the Busoga District of Uganda, Lord Chartres met with people whose eyesight has been saved through surgery and healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly to eliminate trachoma from Uganda once and for all. Lord Chartres also spent time with Ambassadors of Change from Kiringa Village – 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 act as change makers in their communities.

Lord Chartres said, “What has been achieved by the partners involved in the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative in just four years to protect people against the blight of trachoma is quite remarkable. I have been struck by both the dedication and determination of the  individuals I have met in this week in Kiringa Village, who are proof of what can be achieved when people, particularly those most affected by trachoma, come together to fight disease.”

A group of smiling children in a classroom.

‘School health clubs’, such as this one in Karamoja, teach children how to prevent trachoma in their community.

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 Ministry of Health now estimates that less than 300,000 people are at risk of getting the disease. The country is on target to have eliminated trachoma entirely as a public health problem by 2020.

Lord Chartres added, “Thanks to the excellent leadership by the Ministry of Health, eliminating an ancient disease in Uganda is within reach. Uganda really is a true 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 – now, and into the future.”

Lord Chartres and staff and partners from the Trachoma Initiative.

During his visit, Lord Chartres met with partners who are working to eliminate trachoma.