Abu Dhabi steps up fight to elim­i­nate deadly dis­eases across the globe

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES LANG­TON

A re­newed drive to elim­i­nate the world’s most dan­ger­ous dis­eases will be launched in Abu Dhabi today.

Un­der the theme “ac­cel­er­at­ing the pace”, the Reach­ing the Last Mile Fo­rum will look at the fight against po­lio and malaria, and what are known as ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases, of which lit­tle is known even though they en­dan­ger the health and lives of mil­lions.

The global fo­rum, which will bring to­gether more than 250 health ex­perts and or­gan­i­sa­tions, will dis­cuss the progress to end these dis­eases and seek new pledges of sup­port.

Par­tic­i­pants in­clude the Global Institute for Dis­ease Elim­i­na­tion (Glide), which is based in Abu Dhabi. Its for­ma­tion was an­nounced in 2017 and the institute launches this year.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion will raise aware­ness of dis­eases such as river blind­ness, lym­phatic fi­lar­i­a­sis and measles, but also de­velop strate­gies for fight­ing them. Sup­port for Reach­ing the Last Mile comes di­rectly from Sheikh Mo­hamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Com­man­der of the Armed Forces.

Two years ago, Sheikh Mo­hamed, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion and the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment pledged $100 mil­lion (Dh367.3m) to fight

dan­ger­ous dis­eases. The chal­lenges faced in dis­ease elim­i­na­tion are un­der­lined by po­lio, which this year showed an in­crease in recorded cases de­spite being con­tained to only two coun­tries.

Al­though sta­ble in Afghanista­n, which re­ported 20 cases of wild po­lio so far this year and 21 last year, the pic­ture is very dif­fer­ent in Pak­istan, where the num­ber of those af­fected this year rose to 80 from eight last year.

Health work­ers face chal­lenges in reach­ing re­mote ar­eas in both coun­tries and deal­ing with cul­tural re­sis­tance to vac­ci­nat­ing chil­dren. The UAE’s sup­port in Pak­istan is de­liv­ered through the Emi­rates Po­lio Cam­paign.

The Global Po­lio Erad­i­ca­tion Ini­tia­tive will use the Abu Dhabi fo­rum to seek new pledges of sup­port, backed by the Crown Prince.

The GPEI will also use the fo­rum to high­light the role of women health work­ers and so­cial mo­bilis­ers, who work to change at­ti­tudes and raise aware­ness about the im­por­tance of vac­ci­na­tions.

There will be more fo­cus on ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases, which af­fect 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide, many of them in Africa. Reach­ing the Last Mile has cre­ated two short films to be shown dur­ing the fo­rum.

One film tells the story of Le­lamo Turgemu from Sankura, Ethiopia, who suf­fers from lym­phatic fi­lar­i­a­sis, which can cause ele­phan­ti­a­sis, a dis­ease caused by a par­a­sitic worm

that leads to se­vere swelling of the limbs.

Mar­ried with 10 chil­dren, Mr Turgemu was un­able to sup­port his fam­ily and was forced to sell his land, trap­ping them in a cy­cle of poverty.

Last year, 13.5 mil­lion treat­ments for lym­phatic fi­lar­i­a­sis and river blind­ness were de­liv­ered, and 76,000 health work­ers re­ceived train­ing.

Another video fea­tures Ke­sach, a woman from Ethiopia with vis­i­ble ele­phan­ti­a­sis that led to her being shunned in her vil­lage. Proper med­i­cal treat­ment has al­le­vi­ated the worst of her symp­toms and en­abled her to re­sume work.

There are some suc­cess sto­ries, with cases of dra­cun­cu­lia­sis, or Guinea worm dis­ease, fall­ing to 28 last year from 3.5 mil­lion in 1986.

The ob­jec­tive of Reach­ing the Last Mile is to even­tu­ally elim­i­nate all these dis­eases, free­ing the next gen­er­a­tion from their grip.

Le­lamo Turgemu from Ethiopia (third from left), who suf­fers from lym­phatic fi­lar­i­a­sis, fea­tures in a film at the fo­rum

Wam

Main pic­ture and be­low, Pak­istani chil­dren ben­e­fit from the UAE’s po­lio elim­i­na­tion cam­paign

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