Abu Dhabi steps up fight to eliminate deadly diseases across the globe
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
Main picture and below, Pakistani children benefit from the UAE’s polio elimination campaign