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The Queen video chats with eye health professionals

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World Sight Day

To mark World Sight Day last October 8th Her Majesty The Queen and Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex held a call with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and three eye health professionals from around the world including Australian Jennifer Merryweather who works for the Indigenous Australia Program at The Fred Hollows Foundation.

The Queen and The Countess spoke with Jennifer alongside Natrajan Vengadesan from Aravind Eye Care System in India, Dr Jalikatu Mustapha who works with UK-based NGO Sightsavers in Sierra Leone and Peter Holland the Chief Executive of IAPB.

Jennifer Merryweather who spoke to The Queen from Australia in the early hours of the morning said, “It’s such a privilege for me to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and organisations to advocate for change in our eye health care system. It was an incredible experience to be able to share this work with Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness.”

The Queen mentioned how difficult it must be for people in remote areas to access eye health services. It was great to be able to share some of these barriers with Her Majesty. The barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples face include long distances a lack of public ophthalmology services, and the ‘hidden costs’ involved in accessing surgery.

“It was a very surreal experience, and I was quite nervous! But once we started talking I remembered how much I love what I do and what an incredible opportunity it was to share the work of The Fred Hollows Foundation with Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness,” she said.

Ian Wishart CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation said, “In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are three times more likely to be blind than other Australians and Jennifer Merryweather and our Indigenous Australia Program team are working incredibly hard to close that gap. It is wonderful to see Jennifer recognised for her outstanding leadership and she has been instrumental in influencing innovative and positive change across the Australian eye health and vision care sector.”

Commenting on the conversation, Peter Holland Chief Executive of IAPB said “It was a real honour to mark World Sight Day with The Queen and The Countess of Wessex and to join some amazing eye health professionals working to ensure everyone in the world has access to good quality eye health services.

“There are over a billion people globally who experience some form of sight loss and do not have access to treatment. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this situation worse, with many people not being able to access the care they need,” he said. “This year’s theme for World Sight Day is ‘Hope in Sight’. This is important as we need to be optimistic for the future and reflect the hope and opportunity that good eye care can bring to people. Something as simple as glasses or a cataract operation can really change a person’s life. We need good eye health to ensure children are able to benefit from going to school, for people to reach their full potential in their work life and for older people to be able to stay active members of our community.”

“We thank Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness this year especially as we come to the end of the successful VISION 2020 programme which The Countess has been the Global Ambassador for and for the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust which did so much to help fund eye health projects all over the Commonwealth in The Queen’s name,” Peter said.

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