UAE launches 50-day drive to help eradicate two neglected tropical diseases

River blindness and lymphatic filariasis are considered to be some of the most preventable tropical diseases

A major UAE initiative aims to raise awareness and money to eradicate two neglected tropical diseases.

The Reach Campaign’s 50 Days to Transform 5 Million Lives drive seeks to free dozens of countries from two parasitic infections: river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

The fundraiser coincides with the UAE’s golden jubilee celebrations, and takes place in the 50 days from Thursday to the country’s 50th anniversary on December 2.

Neglected tropical diseases affect significantly more people in Africa than malaria and Aids combined. Women and girls in particular bear a significant burden
Daniel Boakye, The End Fund

Tala Al Ramahi, acting managing director of the Reach Campaign, said it will team up with some of the UAE’s biggest companies to raise money and awareness to end neglected tropical diseases. The drive aims to build on the legacy left by Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, to eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

“As part of the 50 day fundraising drive, we are calling on individuals and organisations across the UAE to help play a key role in eliminating these two neglected diseases,” she said.

River blindness, or onchocerciasis, is a parasitic infection caused by a worm. It is spread by repeated bites from a type of fly which lives near fast-flowing rivers.

The infection causes severe skin irritation, itching and ultimately irreversible blindness. It mainly affects African countries.

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by tiny threadlike worms, which live in the human lymph system. It is spread from person to person by mosquitoes. Sufferers are often shunned by their communities and unable to work due to their disability.

Diseases blight the lives of 1.7 billion

“Neglected tropical diseases is an umbrella term for a group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases which affect more than 1.7 billion of the world’s most marginalised and impoverished people, including more than 1 billion children,” said Daniel Boakye, senior technical adviser of programmes at the End Fund, a philanthropic investment platform that aims to tackle the five most common NTDs.

“They tend to be neglected as they are not as deadly as other infectious diseases. Around 170,000 people die from NTDs every year.

“But NTDs affect significantly more people in Africa than malaria and Aids combined.”

A significant associated problem is the burden family members of sufferers face.

When adults suffer from the conditions, their children are often taken out of school to care for them, compromising their future.

“Women and girls in particular bear a significant burden,” said Mr Boakye.

“When a family member suffers from symptoms of these diseases they require constant care and are pulled away from productive activities to care for them.”

But significant progress has been made towards eradication, and the world is now approaching the final mile, he said.

“It is hoped with further support, elimination [of river blindness] will be achieved as already there is evidence that over 6 million people may be free of river blindness in Mali and Senegal, while Niger may be the first country in Africa to have eliminated the disease countrywide,” said Mr Boakye.

The End Fund manages the Reach the Last Mile Fund (RLMF), a 10-year, $100 million (Dh367.3 million) initiative established in 2017 by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, along with other supporters, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. All funds raised by the Reach Campaign are administered by RLMF.

Donations can be made by texting GIVE to 2424, or via Reach Campaign's website.

Updated: October 13th 2021, 4:52 AM