Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed's mission to help eradicate tropical diseases

Long-running campaign has pledged millions of dollars to tackling crippling, preventable conditions such as Guinea worm and river blindness

AL MARYAH ISLAND, ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - November 15, 2017: HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (L), presents a REACH award to HE Abdullah Khalifa Al Ghafli (C), during the Global Health Forum. Seen with Bill Gates, Co-chair and Trustee of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (R).

( Hamad Al Kaabi / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi )
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Among the humanitarian causes that UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed has long shown a commitment to is the eradication of tropical diseases.

In the fight against neglected tropical diseases, such as Guinea worm disease, a parasitic infection that mostly affects poor communities in Africa, Sheikh Mohamed has provided both advocacy and generous financial assistance.

The new president’s efforts follow those of his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, who decades ago began supporting the Carter Centre, an organisation founded by Jimmy Carter, the former US president, that fights tropical illnesses.

We remain committed in the fight to end malaria and will continue to work with the global community to lead on innovative and equity-driven programmes to save millions more lives
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed speaking last month

At the beginning of 2021, Sheikh Mohamed pledged to give $10 million to the centre to mark the 30th anniversary of its partnership with the UAE.

“In the UAE, we have seen first hand the vital link between health and prosperity, and we remain steadfast in our vision of a world where every person deserves to live a healthy, dignified life,” Sheikh Mohamed said at the time.

Indeed, the UAE has, since 2010, donated more than a quarter of a billion dollars in the fight against preventable tropical diseases such as Guinea worm.

Already significant progress has been made to eliminate Guinea worm disease, with the annual tally of cases falling from 3.5 million in 1986 to just 14 last year.

Thanks to the Carter Centre and its partners, supported by Sheikh Mohamed, the hope is that Guinea worm disease will be eliminated entirely.


UAE's Reach Campaign to end neglected tropical diseases


But even if that happens, the work is set to continue, because neglected tropical diseases are thought to still cause as many as 170,000 preventable deaths annually.

As well as causing fatalities, these diseases keep some of the world’s poorest communities poor by stopping adults from working and children from attending school.

One of Sheikh Mohamed’s biggest contributions to combating tropical diseases was his setting up, in 2017, of the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, a decade-long $100m initiative that aims to eliminate river blindness and lymphatic filariasis in a number of African countries.

Among the supporters of the fund is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In December Mr Gates, the Microsoft founder and the foundation’s co-chair, visited the UAE and was received by Sheikh Mohamed, and the two men discussed the fight against diseases.

After the meeting, Sheikh Mohamed hailed on social media an announcement by the African nation of Niger that it had eradicated river blindness as “a milestone in the fight against neglected tropical diseases”.

“Through initiatives such as the Reaching The Last Mile Fund, we remain committed to working with our partners to support these crucial global efforts,” Sheikh Mohamed said.

Sheikh Mohamed also has a long-term commitment to combating malaria, pledging millions of dollars to help prevent the mosquito-borne condition.

On World Malaria Day, which fell on April 25, Sheikh Mohamed said it was important to use innovation to reduce the burden of preventable disease.

“We remain committed in the fight to end malaria through global partnerships and will continue to work with the global community to lead on innovative and equity-driven programmes to save millions more lives,” he said last month.

Updated: May 14, 2022, 8:36 PM