Raising awareness of contact lens care

Moorfields Eye Charity was kindly welcomed at Youlla Ekkeshis’s coffee morning on Tuesday 29 November 2016 in Hadley Wood, London. The coffee morning was arranged by the Cypriot Estia of London, a cultural organisation for the Greek Cypriot community which has been raising money for charitable causes for 40 years. Youlla and Andreas’s daughter Irenie contracted acanthamoeba keratitis through contact lens wear. To raise awareness of the risks associated with contact lens wear Irenie created a ‘no water’ campaign. Irenie used her traumatic experience to help raise awareness of this disease, which can affect anyone, but particularly those who wear contact lenses. The morning was also an opportunity for Moorfields Eye Charity to discuss the amazing work Moorfields Eye Hospital does and share how these important fundraising events can help so many patients.

Gaby Richardson, Events Officer, and Irenie Ekkeshis

Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is an infection of the cornea, the clear ‘window’ at the front of the eye, that can be very painful. The infection is caused by a microscopic organism called acanthamoeba, which is common in nature and is usually found in bodies of water such as lakes, oceans and rivers, as well as domestic tap water, swimming pools, hot tubs, soil and air. Irenie said: “It is excruciatingly painful and causes unbearable photophobia and terrifying vision loss. When it happened to me, it took just three days to leave me in horrific pain and blind in one eye.” Irenie started the ’no water’ campaign because she felt it was unfair that the optical industry at large tended towards a narrative of blame when it comes to AK. She says: “Victims tend to be labelled as unhygienic, uncompliant wearers who ignore widespread advice on safe contact lens wear – as if we’re irresponsibly playing Russian Roulette with our eyesight.” 

Irenie did an extensive amount of research and found evidence to the contrary. “A recent study conducted by the General Optical Council showed that awareness of the risks of water exposure to contact lenses is universally low. Safety information or education on these risks is limited, especially in comparison to marketing messages, which position lenses as low risk throwaway lifestyle products, as safe to use as mascara or toothpaste.” 

Since 2011 Irenie has been determined to help reduce the number of individuals who have to endure the life-altering disease that she has suffered, which has left her completely blind in one eye. 

Irenie has won many awards for her extensive work within the ‘no water’ campaign from SMK Health and Social Care Campaigner of the Year 2015, to RNIB Vision Pioneer Awards Campaign of the Year in 2016. She is now the director and co-founder of The New Citizenship Project. From this tragic infection in 2011, Irenie has truly turned this life changing event into a positive opportunity to help other people and bring a change to the contact lens industry. 

Gaby Richardson, Events Officer, and Irenie Ekkeshis

Irenie Ekkeshis’s coffee morning was a massive success and raised an amazing £2,198. From everyone at Moorfields Eye Charity we wish Irenie the best of luck with her pioneering campaign.

If you would like to know more about acanthamoeba keratitis please visit http://aksupportgroup.tumblr.com