The initiative was expanded in the presence of Sheikh Theyab bin Mohammed bin Zayed (second from right), member of the Executive Council. The expanded partnership was signed by Nassar Al Mubarak (left) representing RLM; Martin Edlund (second from left), CEO at Malaria No More; and Professor Dr Eric Xing (right), President of Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A new $5million (Dh18.3 million) grant funded by the President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Reaching the Last Mile (RLM) initiative will support a campaign to ensure that climate change does not hinder disease elimination efforts.

The Forecasting Healthy Futures (FHF) initiative, launched initially by the Malaria No More organisation, was today expanded in the presence of Sheikh Theyab bin Mohammed bin Zayed, member of the Executive Council. The new grant by RLM will last for three years.

Climate-sensitive diseases

FHF is a consortium of leading health and technology organisations working to prevent the effects of climate change from stalling progress toward disease elimination. Launched in 2020 through seed funding provided by Reaching the Last Mile Initiative, FHF is at the forefront of these climate-informed malaria elimination efforts. By developing sophisticated prediction and planning tools, as well as designing supportive policies to help governments implement them, health interventions are timed and targeted more effectively.

The expanded partnership was signed by Nassar Al Mubarak representing RLM; Martin Edlund, CEO at Malaria No More; and Professor Dr Eric Xing, President of Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI).

“We are proud to be offering our renewed commitment to FHF, and hope that this marks another milestone in the UAE’s long-standing fight against preventable diseases, which started decades ago with our founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan,” Sheikh Theyab said.

'Meaningful partnerships'

“Today, under the guidance of [the UAE President], we continue to work hand-in-hand with key players in the field of global health, through meaningful partnerships that create real impact, whilst upholding our values of helping those in need and empowering people to live healthier and more dignified lives. We celebrate with great optimism the new heights and potential to reach together. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the FHF team and its partners, supported by our world-class university partners at MBZUAI, we look forward to eradicating this disease and moving closer to a malaria-free world,” he added.

Malaria risks

Malaria, one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases, devastates families and perpetuates the cycle of poverty in many communities and countries. According to the recently launched World Health Organisation’s (WHO) World Malaria Report 2021, malaria caused an estimated 247 million cases and over 619,000 deaths. Three out of four deaths were children under five years old.

At a time when climate action is at the top of government agendas across the globe, the impact of climate change on eliminating malaria, and other climate-sensitive infectious diseases is an issue that cannot be ignored. Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather disrupt health systems and alter the range and seasonality of vector borne diseases.

Mosquito proliferation

One mosquito species in particular – Anopheles stephensi – has expanded its range into urban areas and shows increasing insecticide resistance. As per the WHO report, a new initiative launched in September 2022 aimed at stopping the further spread of A. stephensi by increasing surveillance, improving information exchange and prioritising research.

Progress towards malaria elimination is increasing. The World Malaria report highlighted that in 2021, 35 endemic countries recorded fewer than 1,000 new malaria cases, and five of the highest burden countries recorded a decline in deaths. These successes demonstrate the right tools and funding can save lives.

The UAE is among the largest donors to advocacy efforts in support of ending malaria, including the Roll Back Malaria Partnership Partnership to End Malaria – a global platform for coordinating action to rid the world of malaria.

Additional commitment

The latest $5 million commitment from RLM builds on an introductory award of $1.5 million (Dh5.51 million) made in 2020 to assess the feasibility of climate-informed malaria strategies. The initiative also receives support from IBM’s The Weather Company, the Tableau Foundation, and other members.

In January 2022, FHF launched the new Institute for Malaria and Climate Solutions (IMACS), a global institute with the mission to combat malaria in the face of climate change and weather volatility.

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Going forward

Phase 2 of the FHF initiative mainly aims to:

• Increase awareness and action at the intersection of climate change and global health. This aims to educate policy makers, thought leaders and donors on the growing impact of climate change on human health, and promote investment in proactive technology-enabled solutions and the supportive policy reform needed to build resilient health systems.

• Improve the effectiveness of disease early warning systems: This effort hopes to expand a network of experts who are driving the development of sophisticated early warning systems, and demonstrate the potential of artificial intelligence and new data sources in creating increasingly accurate forecast and response systems for malaria and other climate-sensitive infectious disease.

• Support the implementation of prediction and planning solutions: Through this, the FHF aims to provide technical support to health systems so that emerging solutions meet local needs, and integrate with existing systems and data sources,

Global health solutions

“Following [COP27 in] Egypt, the world now turns its attention and hopes for addressing climate change to the UAE and COP28 this year. Given the UAE’s longstanding leadership on disease elimination, it is the ideal place to spotlight the complicating effects of changing climate conditions on diseases like malaria, dengue, zika, and other climate-sensitive disease. With renewed commitment from foundational partners like RLM, FHF hopes to show a path forward for innovative global health solutions that can protect the health of most vulnerable people and communities in the context of climate change,” Edlund said.

Beginning in December 2022, IMACS will launch operations in Indonesia, alongside the MBZUAI and Indonesian stakeholders from the public sector and academia.

“AI is becoming a powerful tool for researchers and decision makers to glean crucial insight from massive amounts of data, such as the data we have on malarial pathology and transmission along with its environmental and climate contexts, to develop strategies towards disease eradication.

“Through machine learning, we can analyse tremendous amounts of satellite and atmospheric data in real time to predict trends and guide the teams on the ground to forecast or identify risks and take action. As the world’s first graduate AI research university, we are honored to support Malaria No More and RLM in their efforts to free humanity from malaria once and for all,” Dr Xing said.