Reaching the Last Mile: 'Unsung Heroes' to be recognised in the battle against disease and poverty

The Reach Awards in Abu Dhabi celebrate courageous health workers and brilliant researchers

They work tirelessly, for long hours, with little financial reward and often in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances.

But their efforts will be acknowledged this week when the "Reaching the Last Mile" awards are presented to a group of selfless health workers in a ceremony at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

They are, in the words of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, "driven to help others by pure conscience".

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These people deserve our respect, appreciation and honour

"These people deserve our respect, appreciation and honour," he said.

Sheikh Mohamed is a key supporter of Reaching the Last Mile, a global health forum to fight some of the world's most debilitating diseases.

The 15 nominees for the Reach Awards, which were also awarded in 2017, work at the front line in places battling against diseases such as polio, malaria and what are known as neglected tropical diseases, which affect one in five people worldwide and little is known of them.

Among the three award categories is that for "Unsung Heroes". This category includes Rahane Lawal, a Nigerian mother of 10, who educates families about the importance of vaccination to prevent diseases such as polio.

Her work is also dangerous because of the constant risk of terrorism and kidnapping in her parts of Nigeria. Ms Lawal was once seized by abductors who knew she worked for the Unicef and thought she was wealthy.

Her family eventually managed to raise the ransom but not before her father-in-law was murdered.

"Life has been difficult after what I went through but I will not allow what happened to deter me from the work I am doing," she said before the awards on Tuesday.

Other nominees include Harriet Mutaawe, a health worker in Uganda, who was the main source of aid and advice in a community that had to travel 30 kilometres to the nearest health centre.

She led the fight for proper health facilities in her village, rallying her neighbours to finish construction for a centre when funding ran out.

Mohamed Shire, a polio eradication officer with the World Health Centre in Mogadishu, was once kidnapped, along with his wife.

He has dedicated his life to driving health campaigns that have led to the eradication of smallpox, and now hopes to do the same with polio.

From Colombia, Dr Hollman Miller has spent 25 years fighting neglected tropical diseases among tribes in the Amazon basin, while Dr Boakye Adwini Boatin has played an important role in eliminating river blindness in Ghana through a programme that has cured about a million people.

Other award categories include "Game-changing Innovators" and "Rising Champions", dedicated to advocacy as a tool for changing health policy.

Among these nominations are Dr Emily Gower from the US, who developed a  low-cost simulator to train surgeons to treat trichiasis, a leading cause of blindness, in areas with very limited medical resources.

She is joined by Dr Richard Kojan, a Congolese physician, who built a portable bio-secure monitoring unit for Ebola patients, and Dr Elizabeth Winzeler from the University of California, whose work led to clinical trials on new drugs that could have a groundbreaking impact on containing malaria.

Rising Champions include Fatimah Alhamian, one of the founders of a women's health campaign in Saudi Arabia working to eliminate cervical cancer.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - December 6, 2015: HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (R), receives Bill Gates, Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (L), prior to the Heroes of Polio Eradication (HOPE) awards ceremony at Al Mamoura.  
( Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi ) *** Local Caption ***  20151206RC_C141008.jpg

Another champion is Indian Saurabh Rane, 27, who survived a highly drug-resistant tuberculosis and now aims to inspire others with his story.

Enock Omondi, another nominee, created a youth parliament in Kenya to push for better health care, while Rose Mary Nakame recovered from a life-threatening brain tumour and went on to establish an organisation that helps rural health workers to push for better resources by telling their stories on social media.

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