HRH The Countess Of Wessex Visits Bangladesh To Witness Fight Against Avoidable Blindness

HRH The Countess of Wessex is visiting Dhaka region of Bangladesh from 23-25 March in her capacity as Patron of Vision 2020: The Right To Sight, the global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness.

The Countess is in Bangladesh as a guest of the disability agency Sightsavers International and Standard Chartered Bank. Over the course of three days, she will be looking at the progress that is being made in Dhaka with regards to delivering eye care services to some of the hardest to access communities in the city. She will also meet with Professor Ruhul Haque, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, as well as leading representatives from international eye care agencies operating in Bangladesh.

Through its community investment programme Seeing Is Believing, Standard Chartered Bank has pledged to continue its existing partnership with Sightsavers to strengthen eye care facilities in Bangladesh by investing USD one million over five years in the Dhaka Urban Comprehensive Eye Care project (DUCEC). Initiated in 2003 and driven by the Bank’s employees, Seeing is Believing is helping to tackle avoidable blindness, 90 per cent of which is found in the developing world where the bank’s business is rooted.

The services provided as a result of Seeing Is Believing will be comprehensive, delivering community eye health education and awareness-raising, together with a range of interventions, from spectacle provision, to surgery according to need. The services will also be sustainable, designed to support marginalised and excluded populations both now and in the future.

Joanna Conlon, programme manager for Seeing Is Believing at Standard Chartered Bank, said: “Avoidable blindness is a major problem in many of our markets and it is not just a health issue; it is also an economic issue, depriving those affected of education and a job, and often rendering them economically dependent. The consequences are highly detrimental to families and communities, deprived of the productivity of both the cared for and the carers.”

An estimated 750,000 people are blind in the country yet 80% of all blindness is due to cataract which can be treated easily and cost-effectively. There are 150,000 new cataract cases each year, creating a huge backlog of untreated cases which Seeing Is Believing, Sightsavers and partners are working to address. Refractive error is the second leading cause of blindness in Bangladesh – two million people have low vision and six million could be helped through vision correction such as something as simple as a pair of glasses. Additionally, there are 40,000 children who are blind, with somewhere in the region of 1000 new cases each year.

Seeing Is Believing’s implementing partner Sightsavers International has been working in Bangladesh with local partners since 1973 to bring eye care within reach of the poorest communities, and has helped to develop services for people who are irreversibly blind, as well as ensuring children who are visually impaired have access to a quality education.

Dr Wahidul Islam, Sightsavers’ director in Bangladesh, commented: “Blindness and poverty are inextricably linked. People with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed and tend to have fewer opportunities to access a quality education. We hope that the visit by HRH The Countess of Wessex will inspire the Government of Bangladesh and all key stakeholders to redouble their efforts when it comes to ensuring eye care for all.”

HRH The Countess of Wessex was born Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1965 in Oxford, UK. After working in public relations for over a decade, Miss Rhys-Jones married The Earl of Wessex in 1999. As The Countess of Wessex, she acts in support of her husband in his roles, and undertakes public duties for a large number of her own charities. She is particularly involved with charities relating to children, disabilities and communication problems and is a Global Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), the leading umbrella organization for NGOs working in the field of eyecare. Together with the World Health Organization, IAPB launched the ‘VISION 2020: The Right to Sight’ global initiative to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020.

Seeing is Believing (SiB) is a global initiative to help tackle avoidable blindness. SiB is a partnership between Standard Chartered Bank and the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness. As part of its “New Vision,” Seeing Is Believing aims to invest USD 20 million by 2012 to provide sustainable eye services for 20 million people in disadvantaged areas of 20 cities around the globe including Dhaka where services will be implemented by Sightsavers International together with their local partners. seeingisbelieving

Sightsavers International is an international agency that works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent blindness, restore sight and advocate for social inclusion and equal rights for people who are blind and visually impaired. Since 1950, Sightsavers has restored sight to more than 5.65 million people and treated over 100 million more. sightsavers

Sightsavers International