How a fund launched by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed is helping eradicate diseases

'Reaching the Last Mile Fund' has been supporting the elimination of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis



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Waheed Abbas

Published: Wed 18 May 2022, 7:20 PM

Humanitarian and charity work has always been on the top of agenda of the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The launch of the $100-million “Reaching the Last Mile Fund” by Sheikh Mohamed was in the similar direction to eradicate, eliminate and control preventable diseases that hinder the health and economic prospects of the world’s poorest people.

The 10-year fund, launched in 2017 when the UAE marked it a “Year of Giving”, has been supporting the elimination of two debilitating and preventable neglected diseases – river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

Sheikh Mohamed had said that neglected diseases continue to hinder the lives of millions across the Middle East and Africa. Eliminating them will have a positive multifaceted impact by lifting millions more across the region out of poverty, but to achieve these goals, there is an urgent need for long-term vision and global partnerships.

The President has assured that the “UAE continues to provide regional and international support for humanitarian, developmental and health initiatives that target countries and communities in need. The launch of this Fund is part of international efforts to rid the world of two debilitating and preventable diseases."

According to World Health Organisation’s latest data released in January 2022, more than 99 per cent of infected people by river blindness, which is caused by a parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus, live in 31 African countries. It also exists in some parts of Brazil, Venezuela and Yemen.

The Global Burden of Disease Study estimated in 2017 that at least 220 million people required preventive chemotherapy against Onchocerciasis, 14.6 million of the infected people already had skin disease and 1.15 million had vision loss.

The WHO has declared four countries – Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Guatemala – free of onchocerciasis after successfully implementing elimination activities for decades.

“No human should suffer from a preventable disease, yet these neglected diseases continue to incapacitate millions of people in Africa and the Middle East. Elimination would help to lift millions more out of poverty, and drive a positive multiplier effect across the continent,” Sheikh Mohamed had said at the launch of the fund.

Thumbay Moideen, founder president of Thumbay Group, said Sheikh Mohamed is widely recognised as an influential leader on a global stage for his philosophy on governance and for being a strong pillar in Abu Dhabi’s transformation into a modern metropolis, providing the highest standards of living for citizens and residents alike.

“Over the last 18 years, Sheikh Mohamed under the guidance of late Sheikh Khalifa, nurtured reforms that accelerated economic growth, supported health care and education systems and promoted art and culture development in Abu Dhabi. Some of his extraordinary initiatives, for instance, ‘Reaching the Last Mile Fund’ to raise $100 million to eradicate and control the spread of preventable diseases that curb the health and economic prospects of the world’s poorest people, have contributed significantly towards improving the healthcare system in the Middle Eastern and North Africa region, leading to many more people having access to quality health services,” said Moideen.

“We believe that the UAE government has continuously put health and wellbeing of the society at the forefront of its policies, and are encouraged to see the investments to ensure eradication and elimination of deadly and debilitating diseases. As a leading healthcare services and health professions education provider, Thumbay Group lauds the president's vision in the development of the healthcare initiatives. We are committed in aligning the firm’s goals to the implementation of services that ensure a healthy life while promoting wellbeing for all,” he added.

The ‘Reaching the Last Mile Fund’ received support from world renowned individuals and groups such as $20 million from Sheikh Mohamed and a similar amount from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the fund, which will be managed by the END Fund, a philanthropic investment platform focused on tackling the five most common neglected tropical diseases.

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In addition to this, the UAE President has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to global efforts to eradicate and eliminate deadly debilitating diseases.

The Fund has been donating albendazole treatments and will continue until 2027 to eliminate lymphatic filariasis and deworm school-age children in target countries, and MSD, which will donate ivermectin to eliminate lymphatic filariasis and river blindness through the Mectizan Donation Programme, with co-investments from the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and United States Agency for International Development.

The Fund has been, continuing to assist eliminating the diseases in target countries and also scale up activities and mass drug administration programmes in high-burden countries.

The assistance programme with the help of partners will continue to provide healthcare assistance in target countries until 2027.

The coalition have been topping up and strengthening programmes, working through partners that are well established in the field, and increase impact by using an integrated approach in areas where river blindness is prevalent alongside lymphatic filariasis, which requires a complementary drug treatment programme.

-waheedabbas@khaleejtimes.com


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