Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex has been quite busy during her visit to India, but arguably, the Vision Catalyst Fund Reception was one of the most important aspects of the entire trip. Although raising awareness and standing in solidarity is important, true change is brought about through projects like the Vision Catalyst Fund Reception.

The $ 1 billion Vision Catalyst Fund aims to help governments to prioritise vision and to tackle avoidable blindness and poor eyesight. In doing so, they will transform the lives of millions of people.

In an official statement the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust noted: “Building on the major achievements in eye health over recent years, led by governments, NGOs, philanthropists and corporates, the Trust is joining forces with civil society, public and private sector organisations with expertise in eye health1 to develop the Vision Catalyst Fund over the next two years. Once operational, the $1billion Vision Catalyst Fund will seek to accelerate systems change and expand universal eye health services led by governments, to provide sustainable and efficient long term solutions for eye health to entire populations in Commonwealth countries and across the globe.”

The organisation further noted that 85 million people in the Commonwealth today are blind or have very poor vision. Globally, 2.5 billion people lack access to glasses, 1.1 billion of whom need glasses to improve their near vision. As such, organizations and platforms such as these are not just a necessity but can be categorized as a basic human right.

The Countess of Wessex’s Vision Catalyst Fund Speech

High Commissioner, Honoured Guests; 

This is the third time I have seen this film Life with Sight and each time I see it it makes me cry. My daughter, Louise, was born prematurely and so every time I see anything to do with premature babies it takes me back to those early days, the shock of her early arrival, and then the realisation that she had a sight issue, which we would have to manage.

The other reason I become emotional when I watch this film is because of the way Dr Jalali gives of herself so incredibly selflessly day in day out, week in week out in order that those tiny infants may have the chance to see. She is the most extraordinary person, so humble in the way she approaches her work, so determined to help the helpless and always with such a beautiful smile on her face.

There are people on this planet who have been sent by God and I truly believe she is one of them and countless families owe so much to her, but as she says her reward is seeing them grow into amazing human beings.

I have the honour of being Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and this week I have been able to see the impact of the Trust’s initiative to prevent premature babies from going blind.

To witness myself the work of Dr Jalali and her colleagues in screening and treating babies and to meet the parents of children whose sight has been saved.

None of this would have been possible without the generosity of the Trust’s donors and partners. Therefore I would like to take this opportunity to thank Standard Chartered for their incredible support.  

Standard Chartered’s dedication to the cause of vision, and their programme Seeing is Believing, is well documented and long-standing.

I have had the pleasure of visiting many of their programmes around the world, I have travelled with them on a number of occasions and attended a variety of fundraising events with them and have celebrated key milestones with them over many years. They should be so proud of what they have done and are continuing to do.

This particular initiative here in India has been incredibly successful not just because of the dedication and expertise of specialists like Dr Jalali. It is down to the partnership between the Trust and government, whose leadership has enabled the collaboration between all partners involved to allow this incredible transformation to flourish.

The legacy of the initiative in the care premature babies are given across India is permanent.

It is incontrovertible proof that government leadership can change the face of an issue by engaging everyone involved to provide tangible, effective and achievable solutions.  

I feel hopeful that a world free of ALL forms of avoidable blindness is not just a pipe dream, but is within our grasp if we can garner governments, specialists, and the private sector, because we already have the technology, the treatments and the know how to make it happen.

This is why I am so excited by the effort which has begun by a group of private sector organisations, including Standard Chartered, by philanthropists and the eye health sector, to develop a Vision Catalyst Fund.

Inspired by other global funds including the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, our ambition is to mobilise significant funding to support governments to scale up eye health programmes and make them a part of strengthened health systems, bringing vision to entire populations. The plan is for the Fund to begin pilot programmes in 2020, and to operate at full scale by 2022.

The mission of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust is to leave a lasting legacy, owned by the whole Commonwealth in honour of Her Majesty The Queen.

It is doing so by working with governments to curb blindness from avoidable causes. It is giving new hope to people across the world, releasing their potential to learn, to work and to lead fulfilled and productive lives. The Trust’s work is almost at an end. But a Vision Catalyst Fund can build upon and amplify what has been achieved in the name of one of the world’s most respected Monarchs.

I am so proud to be involved in the work of the Trust and I pledge to continue my involvement as we move forward. Today I ask you to support us in our efforts to help bring vision to everyone, everywhere.

I have seen many people both young and old have sight restored to their unseeing eyes. It is when their sight is restored that they start to smile, for smiling is a reflex we only use in response to something or someone, but it is a thing of real beauty.

As Mother Teresa said “Let us always meet each other with the smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”  

I therefore ask you to help us create as many smiles as we can in order that we can spread the love.

Images: Buckingham Palace

Martin Jones

Royal Editor

With over 30 years in the field, Martin Jones is considered as one of the world's leading Royal Commentators. He and his team report on the latest news, announcements and events from various Royal Families all across the world.

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