Ramadan: Sheikh Zayed saw good health as a priority for all

A look back at the late Ruler's generous spirit on the anniversary of his death during Ramadan

The 19th day of Ramadan also marks the anniversary of the death of Sheikh Zayed during the holy month of 2004.

This year, 16 years on and given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the country is reminded of his commitment to health care for his people and those of the rest of the world.

Growing up in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed would have been well aware of the terrible toll disease and ill health could take on an unprotected population.

Doctors and trained health workers were all but unknown even as late as the 1960s. Serious eye diseases were common, as was infant mortality, while the risk of women dying in childbirth has been estimated to be as high as one in three.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan attending the graduation ceremony of Air Academy students at Al Dhafra base, 1987 
National Archives images supplied by the Ministry of Presidential Affairs to mark the 50th anniverary of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan becaming the Ruler of Abu Dhabi. *** Local Caption ***  69.jpg

As Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region, it was Sheikh Zayed’s decision in 1960 to invite Christian doctors to set up the Emirate’s first health centre in Al Ain.

In the 50 years since, medics at what was first the Oasis Hospital and renamed the Kanad Hospital last December, have saved many thousands of lives and ensured the good health of many more.

The prosperity and fortunes of the UAE allowed the country to develop a sophisticated healthcare system from the 1970s, but Sheikh Zayed also turned his attention to those in need in other countries.

A meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter in 1990 led to Sheikh Zayed making a personal donation of more than $5.5 million (Dh20m) to the Carter Centre and its battle against Guinea worm disease.

In the three decades since, it has been estimated that around 80m cases of this crippling and debilitating parasitic disease have been prevented in rural Africa.

Examples of Sheikh Zayed’s generosity and that of the Ruling Family in his name, can be found all over the world.

The Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, was created with a donation by the UAE in 1986 and now has more than 1,000 beds.

It has become part of a medical campus that includes the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Medical and Dental College.

A year before his death, the Sheikh Zayed Medical Centre was established in the Punjab in his name.

In 1996, Sheikh Zayed founded what is now the Sultan Zayed foundation, whose charitable work has seen millions of dirhams given to support international health care.

They included the Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Ramallah in the West Bank while other medical facilities named in his honour include El Sheikh Zayed Specialised Hospital in Giza, part of Egypt’s Sheikh Zayed City, and the Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, which opened with facilities for 1,000 patients a day, even as the country struggled to recover from the US invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Beyond the region is the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington DC which opened in 2011.

In London, the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children, part of the world famous Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, welcomed its first patients last year.

The late Sheikh Zayed bi Sultan Al Nahyan President of the UAE and HRH Prince of Wales and Princess Diana of Wales. (Courtesy Al Ittihad)

The research centre was made possible by a Dh60 million donation from Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, chairwoman of the General Women’s Union and the wife of the late President.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, also continues his father’s vision. The Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces - who was born in the Oasis Hospital his father founded - has strongly supported the global fight against preventable diseases like polio and malaria, working with the Gates Foundation.

Last month, Sheikh Mohamed and Bill Gates discussed the battle against Covid-19. This Ramadan, the words of Sheikh Zayed also offer some guidance.

“Life is inconsistent and ever changing," he once said. “So are health and weather. We must, therefore, be prepared for the unexpected changes coming our way."

Remembering Sheikh Zayed