The Chief Executive of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (the Trust), Dr Astrid Bonfield CBE, today met with leading eye health experts to thank and commend them for their efforts to prevent blindness across Solomon Islands.

In the Pacific, four out of five people who are blind don’t need to be. Many people across the region who are blind – or are at risk of blindness – are so because they don’t have access to affordable eye care. Since 2014, The Trust has been working with the Ministry of Health, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ and The Fred Hollows Foundation to help bring affordable, quality eye care to people in Solomon Islands, including those who live in the most remote of communities, who have – or are at risk of – diabetic retinopathy and trachoma.

Diabetic retinopathy, also referred to as diabetes eye disease, is a complication of diabetes and is the fastest growing cause of blindness globally. It occurs when poor control of blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and high lipid levels in the blood damage the blood vessels in the retina. If left untreated, it can lead to irreversible blindness. Over half of all people with diabetes are unaware they have the condition, and by the time their vision deteriorates is it often too late for treatment. Regular screening, early treatment, and careful health management can reduce the risk of vision loss by 95% and is crucial to ensuring people with diabetes do not go blind when their sight could be saved.

Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness. It is easily spread from person to person and is most commonly found in poor, rural communities with limited access to clean water and sanitation. Repeated infection causes scar tissue to develop in the eyelid, and if left untreated the eyelashes eventually turn inward, scraping the surface of the eye. With every blink, people slowly and painfully lose their sight. Much of the population in Solomon Islands is geographically isolated from health care services.

The Trust, together with its partner The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, has worked with the Ministry of Health in Solomon Islands to secure permanent changes to the health system by integrating screening and quality treatment for diabetic retinopathy into the care provided to people with diabetes. By making long-term improvements to the public health system, the Trust’s aim has been to protect the sight of all those who have diabetes in Solomon Islands, as well as those at risk of developing the disease in the future. Thanks to the commitment and leadership of the Ministry of Health, with support from the Trust’s funding, over 7,700 people with diabetes in Solomon Islands have been screened for diabetic retinopathy and 1,020 people have now received treatment to prevent them from going blind.

The Trust with its partners has sought to raise awareness of diabetes eye disease across Solomon Islands and build capacity by training 227 primary health carers and 19 community health workers to help refer patients for screening. In addition, over SBD 1 million in diabetic retinopathy equipment has been donated by the Trust and outreach teams have visited communities over 50 times since 2014, resulting in almost 3,000 people being screened to see if they had diabetic eye disease.

In the fight against trachoma, working with The Fred Hollows Foundation, the Trust has helped to administer vital antibiotics to over 87% of the population – approximately 500,000 people - to prevent the spread of infection. Solomon Islands now has a Trachoma Master Grader, Mr Oliver Sokana, thanks to training provided by the Trust’s programme. Four ophthalmic nurses have also been certified as either Trachoma Grader Trainers or Recorders – meaning there is now a much more accurate picture of the rates of trachoma across Solomon Islands. Such is the progress achieved across the country’s 300 inhabited islands, a recent trachoma ‘ancillary survey’ confirmed that Solomon Islands now does not need any further mass distributions of antibiotics to prevent future infection. The next step is to begin preparing the necessary information to become validated by the World Health Organization as entirely trachoma-free.

Speaking about the work in Solomon Islands, Dr Astrid Bonfield said: “Solomon Islands has achieved significant progress over the past five year to bring quality eye care to all of its people, regardless of where they live. The efforts of the Ministry of Health and our partners in fighting trachoma and providing eye health care in even some of the most remote and outer areas of Solomon Islands the most physically is truly remarkable and is ensuring people are protected against entirely avoidable forms of blindness each and every day.

“I am very grateful for the Ministry of Health’s engagement in and leadership of the Trust’s programme. When Commonwealth Heads of Government met in London last year, they agreed that they would take action towards achieving access to quality eye care for both tackling trachoma and establishing local services which provide quality eye care for all people with diabetes is a fantastic response by Solomon Islands to that commitment - and one in which the Trust is very proud to have played a part. I am encouraged from all I’ve seen here that the country’s commitment to ensuring people receive quality eye care will continue long into the future.”

The Trust was established in 2012 to create a lasting legacy in honour of Her Majesty The Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. The work undertaken in Solomon Islands since 2014 to prevent people from losing their sight to diabetes and trachoma now and in the future forms a core part of the Trust’s legacy.

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