Illustrative artwork of DNA code Image Credit: File

Abu Dhabi: A 50-day fundraiser beginning on Thursday will collect funds to transform the lives of 5 million people currently affected by two neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Caused by parasitic worms that are transmitted to human hosts via other insects, river blindness and lymphatic filariasis currently plague more than 1 billion people across the world, mostly in marginalised communities. Five million of these people, living in seven African and Middle Eastern nations, will be supported through the new ‘Reach’ campaign announced on Tuesday.

All funds collected by the campaign will be delivered to affected communities by UAE's Reaching the Last Mile Fund (RLM Fund), a 10-year, $100 million (around Dh367 million) fund launched in 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

RLM Fund is also supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other philanthropic organisations.

How to donate
Those who are interested in donating can text ‘GIVE’ to 2424, or visit the ‘Reach The End’ campaign website.

Tala Al Ramahi, acting managing director of Reach, said: “These 50 days, counting down to National Day [December 2, 2021], honour our leadership’s commitment to eliminating NTDs globally, building on the legacy of giving of the UAE’s founding father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The campaign celebrates the UAE’s golden jubilee, and continues [Sheikh Zayed’s] commitment to ending NTDs.”

Tala Al Ramahi, acting managing director of Reach

Several initiatives

A series of fundraising initiatives that rope in some of the biggest companies in the UAE will be announced over the next 50 days, including virtual promotions, school-based activations, employee-giving campaigns and physical activities. Funds collected will be delivered to affected communities by the RLM Fund.

“We will raise as much money as possible, with the aim of protecting people from river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, for an entire year. We are calling on individuals and organisations across the UAE to play a key role in eliminating these infectious diseases,” Al Ramahi said.

$100 million fund

Funds raised for the RLM Fund are administered by the END Fund, a global philanthropy that focuses on eliminating NTDs through disease mapping, community support, preventive efforts, human capital development and laboratory research.

Impact of diseases

There is also the fear that if NTDs are not eliminated, they can be transmitted by mosquitoes - as the world faces increasing global warming – to other nations and communities.

Dr Daniel Boakye, senior technical advisor of programmes at the END Fund, said impoverished communities are especially vulnerable today as donor nations divert funds to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, NTD support is often neglected because the diseases, caused by parasites, are not as deadly as other infectious diseases.

“Even so, they affect 1.7 billion of the world’s most marginalised communities, including more than one billion children. In addition, 170,000 people die from NTDs each year, and these conditions affect more people in Africa each year than HIV and malaria combined. And when adults suffer from these diseases, children are taken out of school to support their care, with women and girls shouldering a significant part of the burden,” Dr Boakye said.

UAE’s active role

Simon Bland, CEO of the Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE), said: “The UAE has played a remarkable leadership role in continuing to tackling NTDs while other nations continue to neglect them. So far, the world has only eradicated one disease – smallpox. But we are close in polio and guinea worm disease, both – in large part – because of support from the UAE. But we are also making progress against river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.”

Simon Bland, CEO, Global Institute for Disease Elimination

GLIDE is also an Abu Dhabi-based organisation launched in 2019 by Sheikh Mohamed to eliminate infectious diseases.