Diplomatic efforts by the UAE to direct the world's attention to Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are proving successful as World NTD Day is added to the World Health Organisation's calendar this week.
The official recognition will help drive progress on the treatment of such diseases in political and public circles and mobilise action around the world.
The UAE has long spearheaded the campaign to obtain official recognition of the day, and the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court played a lead role in building partnerships.
Ahmed Al Jarman, permanent representative of the UAE to the United Nations office, celebrated the culmination of those efforts with international organisations in Geneva, Switzerland.
"We are proud today to lead the fruitful work to reach a common agreement to take stock every year of the progress made internationally, regionally and locally by all concerned stakeholders to overcome Neglected Tropical Diseases and end the suffering of millions of people around the world," he said.
"The consensus reflects the close co-operation between the different partners including the WHO and expresses the willingness of the international community to challenge these widespread diseases."
What are NTDs?
NTDs affect more than 1.7 billion people, often those who live in extreme poverty, remote communities, and lack access to basic amenities such as clean water.
The diseases include leprosy, Chagas disease, intestinal worms, dengue and chikungunya, Guinea worm disease, scabies, trachoma and schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, yaws, river blindness and sleeping sickness.
Treatment and prevention of the pathogens that cause the diseases cost developing economies billions of dollars every year.
NTDs are responsible for thousands of preventable deaths each year and cause impairments that perpetuate the cycle of poverty by keeping millions of adults out of work and children out of school.
What is World NTD Day?
World NTD Day takes place on January 30. The initiative was informally launched in 2020.
The official day increased in prominence this year, with more than 360 organisations from 61 countries partnering to draw attention to mark the launch of the WHO's new 10-year roadmap to tackle these diseases.
More than 65 landmarks across 43 cities and 26 countries were illuminated, and leaders and individuals raised awareness of the initiative on social media.
Which other countries are involved?
The idea was proposed by the UAE, Brazil and Oman at the 74th World Health Assembly.
Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, the director of the WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, highlighted their role in building consensus.
"World NTD Day is in appreciation of the work spearheaded by the United Arab Emirates along with other member states and partners to inspire and incentivise communities to fight these debilitating diseases," she said.
"I am confident this recognition will further motivate everyone to work across sectors to implement the new road map, which aims to free over a billion people from these diseases by 2030."
Why does the UAE focus on NTDs in particular?
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has a particular interest in eliminating NTDs, as illustrated by his philanthropic programme, Reaching the Last Mile.
The projects covered by this initiative provide treatment and preventive care in communities that lack access to quality health services, with a specific focus on reaching the last mile of disease elimination.
Is it possible to eliminate NTDs?
So far, 42 countries have eliminated at least one such disease.
The conditions can often be easily treated, simply and cheaply - for less than $0.50, (Dh1.8) per person.
Thoko Elphick-Pooley, executive director of Uniting to Combat NTDs, said the new official day is a major boost in the fight.
"Thank you to Sheikh Mohamed and the government of the UAE for your incredible support, alongside Brazil and Oman, in mobilising member states and partners to support this effort on behalf of 1.7 billion people and for your unwavering commitment to ending these diseases of poverty, " he said.
"Together, we will beat NTDs."