Sophie ‘in awe’ of work done in Gambia to eliminate infection causing blindness

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·3-min read

The Countess of Wessex has said the Queen “loves it when people get together and make things happen” as she celebrated The Gambia’s achievement of becoming trachoma free.

Sophie, who is a global ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), held a video call last month ahead of the official announcement, and described the news as “wonderful”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed last week that The Gambia had successfully eliminated the eye disease – the world’s number one infectious cause of blindness.

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The countess said: “In our lifetime, to see something that has been so prevalent and has destroyed so many lives actually being beaten is wonderful.”

She added: “Without the commitment from the top down and the bottom up, none of this would have come about.

“We stand in awe of what has been achieved.”

Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust reception
The Countess of Wessex, left, and the Queen at a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust reception in 2019 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Sophie also praised the Queen, who is now mourning the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh, for her support for tackling avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth.

She said the monarch had taken a personal interest and “loves it when people get together and make things happen”.

The countess revealed: “Her Majesty is so supportive of this kind of work. For her to have chosen sight as the main pillar of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Fund during its time was so reaffirming.

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“She has genuinely taken a personal interest in that work.

“When I was travelling on her behalf to be able to come back and tell her what I’ve seen, what I’ve learnt, the work that was going on … she loves collaboration; she loves it when people get together and make things happen.”

In October, the Queen and her daughter-in-law joined a call with eye health professionals throughout the Commonwealth to mark World Sight Day.

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At the end of March, Sophie spoke with key representatives from The Gambian government, including vice-president Isatou Touray, and the international community, who have collaborated for decades to fight the disease.

The country’s ministry of health has worked with organisations including the International Trachoma Initiative, WHO, the Medical Research Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Unicef and Sightsavers.

The bacterial infection can, if left untreated, cause irreversible blindness.

Some 137 million people are at risk of trachoma globally.

It is a public health problem in 44 countries, and responsible for the blindness or visual impairment of about 1.9 million people.