Reaching the Last Mile: First world tropical diseases day to highlight plight of millions suffering

January 30 will put the spotlight on crippling diseases such as river blindness, guinea worm and trachoma

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The first World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day will take place in January, it was announced on Tuesday.

Reem Al Hashimi, Minister for State for International Cooperation, said the initiative was designed to galvanise efforts to tackle such conditions, which include river blindness, guinea-worm and trachoma, and predominantly affect the world’s poorest communities.

World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day will occur on January 30 next year, Ms Al Hashimi announced, at the Reaching the Last Mile event at Louvre Abu Dhabi.

She said that while it was right that progress in tackling NTDs was celebrated, 1.6 billion people were still “being robbed of their health and their human potential” due to their prevalence of such diseases.

“The UAE is proud to announce the first ever NTD day on January 30 2020,” she said in a keynote address.

“This special day will galvanise advocates across the NTD community, raise awareness and call our community to action in support of countries where NTDs still persist.”

The UAE has invested significant sums in efforts to fight NTDs, with further announcements expected.

The Reaching the Last Mile event will also cover efforts to eradicate polio. Afghanistan and Pakistan the only countries still affected by the disease.

In October it was announced that the second of three types of polio had been eradicated. Cases have fallen by 99 per cent by 1988.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation, said in his address that he looked forward to the day that polio joined smallpox in being wiped out.

But he warned against complacency, saying it was vital that infrastructure to fight high-profile diseases remained in place to combat more common conditions.

In the fight against malaria, he said, progress has “stalled”, with cases increasing in some countries. He called for continued political commitment and funding “finish the job” in the fight against preventable diseases.

“The same health workers who have delivered the polio vaccine have helped to fight Ebola, cholera and other outbreaks,” he said.

“They have worked to address malnutrition, provide measles vaccinations and malaria bed nets.

Guinea worm and malaria are all symptoms of a deeper sickness, which is why ultimately, our fight is not against a single disease. Our fight is against inequality

“We can and will make polio history. One day, children will not need to be vaccinated against polio. But we know that even when polio is eradicated, even when guinea worm is eradicated, even when malaria is eradicated, children will continue to suffer from other threats.

“Guinea worm and malaria are all symptoms of a deeper sickness, which is why ultimately, our fight is not against a single disease. Our fight is against inequality. Our fight is against is against a world in which people get sick and die simply because they are poor, or female or a refugee.

“Our fight is for a fundamental human right, a right to health for everyone, everywhere.”

A short video message from António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, was also played at the event.