World Sight Day 2023: HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh visits Ethiopia | Orbis
Her Royal Highness meets with members of the community receiving screening for trachoma

World Sight Day 2023: HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh visits Ethiopia

In the week of World Sight Day 2023, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh, Global Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), is visiting Ethiopia to celebrate our work, and reaffirm the call to eliminate trachoma for all by 2030.

As part of the visit, Her Royal Highness took part in a historic trachoma elimination conference in Addis Ababa. The event bought together over 40 organisations and more than 100 participants who discussed challenges, successes and future plans to eliminate trachoma.  

The conference was organised by Orbis, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and the British Embassy. Speakers included Her Excellency Minister of Health, Ethiopia, Dr Leah Tadesse, The British Ambassador, HMA Darren Welch and patients who have experienced trachoma.

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh met with Dr Alemayehu Sisay, Country Director of Orbis Ethiopia.

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh met with Dr Alemayehu Sisay, Country Director of Orbis Ethiopia. Credit: Adam Mengistu.

As the world’s leading cause of infection blindness, trachoma has left nearly two million people with blindness or sight loss today. In 2023, Benin and Mali have confirmed elimination of trachoma. But with over half of the people in the world at risk living in Ethiopia, a focus on eliminating trachoma here is crucial to achieving the World Health Organisation (WHO) goal of total elimination by 2030 in the country.

Her Royal Highness delivered the keynote speech at the conference, highlighting the impact of trachoma on women, children, livelihoods and education. The Duchess also recognised the hard work and dedication of the government and organisations collaborating closely to make trachoma history in the country. The Duchess commented:  

“So much has been achieved both here in Ethiopia and around the world. But now is the time that we must all redouble our efforts if we are to achieve our aim of eliminating trachoma by the year 2030, which is a mere six years away.”  

Her Royal Highness delivers the keynote speech at the Trachoma Elimination Conference

Her Royal Highness delivers the keynote speech at the Trachoma Elimination Conference.

The Duchess witnessed for herself the vital work being undertaken to eliminate trachoma by visiting services protecting the vision of children and adults in Hawassa, Ethiopia. Orbis Ethiopia’s Country Director Dr Alemayehu accompanied her on the visit to see trachoma elimination projects.

Eye Screening to Prevent Trachoma

The Duchess met with health workers screening for and treating trachoma at a primary eye care unit. Staff shared the challenges many people face which can lead to the infection, including limited access to clean water and sanitation. She also learnt about the work being undertaken to find and treat those with the condition. These vital efforts include training for case finders which she witnessed first-hand, and providing antibiotics and surgery.

Her Royal Highness then visited Hawassa Tertiary Eye Care Unit, and was shown simulation training facilities established by Orbis at the hospital. Virtual reality and cutting-edge prosthetics, help eye care teams to build skills and confidence before progressing to real-life surgeries.

The Duchess was invited to test her skills in cataract surgery, under the guidance of the centres doctors. Such trainings have been proven to effectively decrease complication rates, reduce surgical time and improve outcomes among a surgeon’s early surgical cases.

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh tries out a simulation training established by Orbis at Hawassa Tertiary Eye Care unit, Ethiopia

HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh tries out a simulation training established by Orbis at Hawassa Tertiary Eye Care unit, Ethiopia.

Her Royal Highness also visited a local school, to see how children are screened by teachers for many eye conditions. Activity at the school also includes educating children about how to protect themselves from trachoma, through school eye care clubs sharing the information through plays and songs. 

The scale of importance of eliminating trachoma was something commented on in her keynote conference speech:

“We must not let ourselves become defocused or complacent. We are on the cusp of achieving something almost unimaginable in previous years.  Every person involved in this vital work has reason to be so very proud of each and every accomplishment… We are creeping closer to our incredible goal and I urge you all to keep your eyes on the prize and to make this disease so awful that it is worthy of mention in the Bible, a thing of the past and give our communities the gift of sight.”

Help Us Make Trachoma History

On World Sight Day 2023, Orbis have launched a campaign to Make Trachoma History, calling on the UK public to help join the journey to elimination by 2030. There are a number of ways to get involved in creating a future free from trachoma by joining the journey today.

Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh

The visit to Ethiopia in October 2023 continues a long history of visits to Orbis’s work to raise awareness and support work to end avoidable blindness.

In her role as Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, Her Royal Highness visited India in 2013, to experience a Flying Eye Hospital programme and learn about the sight saving services being provided to the local community in Kolkata.

We were lucky enough to once again welcome The Duchess to our programme in 2017, to Dhaka and Chattogram in Bangladesh where she was reacquainted with nurse Mammoth Adhikary, who she met in the Ispahani Islamia Eye Institute in 2009. Mammoth was involved in the very first Orbis Flying Eye Hospital programme in the country back in 1985 and is now Head Nurse at the hospital.

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