Erad­i­ca­tion of dis­ease is now a step closer

▶ Reach­ing the Last Mile will show at its fo­rum today how it is keep­ing up the mo­men­tum

The National - News - - OPINION -

Po­lio, malaria, guinea worm dis­ease and river blind­ness are just a few of the pre­ventable dis­eases that no one should have to suf­fer from in this age of un­par­al­leled med­i­cal ad­vance­ments. In the 21st cen­tury, it is a weight on our col­lec­tive con­science that such dev­as­tat­ing ill­nesses con­tinue to crip­ple the lives of mil­lions who can be helped.

It was with this in mind that Sheikh Mo­hamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Com­man­der of the Armed Forces, joined forces two years ago with some of the lead­ers in global health to ad­vance their col­lec­tive com­mit­ment to the elim­i­na­tion of these so-called ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases, which af­fect 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide, many of them in Africa.

The Reach­ing the Last Mile ini­tia­tive will add to its mo­men­tum today in Abu Dhabi as 250 global ex­perts, lead­ers and phi­lan­thropists, in­clud­ing Bill Gates, gather for its fo­rum, un­der the pa­tron­age of Sheikh Mo­hamed. Dur­ing the fo­rum at­ten­dees will hear of the progress being made to end these dis­eases and new pledges of sup­port will also be sought to keep up the fight. At 2017’s event, for ex­am­ple, Sheikh Mo­hamed pledged $20 mil­lion, a sum matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion, as part of a $100m fund to fi­nance work to­wards elim­i­nat­ing river blind­ness and lym­phatic fi­lar­i­a­sis.

The joint ef­forts of gov­ern­ments and the pri­vate sec­tor only strengthen re­sources and add to the col­lec­tive will to en­act change. They also make it more fea­si­ble to achieve far-reach­ing, am­bi­tious goals. Take the col­lab­o­ra­tive bat­tle to com­pletely erad­i­cate guinea worm dis­ease, spread by in­fected drink­ing wa­ter and af­fect­ing the joints, and po­lio, which can lead to paral­y­sis and death.

Since 1986, the Carter Cen­tre has pi­o­neered the cam­paign to wipe out guinea worm dis­ease from the planet. In 1990, the UAE’s Found­ing Fa­ther Sheikh Zayed con­trib­uted $5.77 mil­lion to its ef­forts and helped pre­vent an es­ti­mated 80 mil­lion cases of the dis­ease.

A lot can hap­pen when re­sources and ca­pac­i­ties such as those of the UAE are har­nessed to tackle seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able chal­lenges. Po­lio, for ex­am­ple, has long pro­lif­er­ated in coun­tries riven by con­flict. But while it is yet to be wiped out, the progress made to­wards erad­i­cat­ing it world­wide in­di­cates what is pos­si­ble when there is will and de­ter­mi­na­tion. From 1998, when po­lio was present in 125 coun­tries, it now ex­ists in only three – Pak­istan, Afghanista­n and Nige­ria. But there is no room for com­pla­cency as the ex­am­ple of po­lio shows, with an uptick in re­ported cases in Pak­istan this year com­pared to last.

At the fo­rum, 15 health work­ers from around the world will be awarded for their tire­less ef­forts in beat­ing dis­ease, of­ten at risk to their own lives.

These un­sung heroes re­mind us of the im­por­tance of tak­ing a long-term view in fight­ing for a world in which ev­ery sin­gle per­son is guar­an­teed to live a healthy, dis­ease-free life.

It is at the meet­ing point of ex­per­tise, funds, re­sources and ed­u­ca­tion that these dis­eases can be­come a thing of the past.

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