UAE aims to rally the world in fight against tropical diseases

First ever World NTD Day takes place on Thursday

A child takes part in a de-worming program run by The End Fund, an NTD charity, in Ethiopia. Courtesy The End Fund
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Dozens of events will be held across five continents on Thursday under a UAE initiative to tackle diseases that blight the lives of more than 1.5 billion people every year.

The first World NTD Day is designed to raise awareness of neglected tropical diseases, which have been largely eradicated in the developed world but continue to affect some of the poorest communities on Earth.

The range of conditions, including river blindness, elephantiasis and snail fever, can often be easily treated, simply and cheaply.

However, while progress is being made, the cause of NTDs has historically struggled to attract attention and funding, something Emirati leaders have been trying to change.

World NTD Day will raise awareness and rally the general public behind the urgent need to end NTDs, helping to keep the issue high on the global agenda

“More than a billion people worldwide live in unhealthy environments that perpetuate poverty,” Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said on Wednesday. “On the first World NTD Day on January 30, we continue as individuals, communities, organisations and partners, to stand in solidarity and work together to create a better future for all.”

Seventy separate events will take place across the globe for World NTD Day, an initiative announced in Abu Dhabi in December last year and funded by the UAE. It is backed by nearly 300 organisations, including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, and it is hoped that it will grow to become a major annual event.

“The UAE has been committed to ending NTDs for over 30 years, starting with the UAE’s late founding father Sheikh Zayed,” Mohamed Al Mazrouei, Undersecretary of the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said.

“World NTD Day will raise awareness and rally the general public behind the urgent need to end NTDs, helping to keep the issue high on the global agenda.

“Our commitment to ending NTDs is not just about disease elimination.  By removing the barrier of disease, we can help alleviate poverty and uplift entire generations.”

Those who are fighting the tropical diseases, which are most common in Africa but also prevalent in parts of Asia and the Americas, believe this year will be a crucial for their campaign.

This year, the World Health Organisation is expected to launch new targets to guide progress until 2030. World NTD Day is intended to kick-start a series of awareness-raising campaigns that it is hoped will lead to governments committing more funding.

Among the events taking place on Thursday is a campaign to identify leprosy cases in southern India, the launch of new research in Cameroon and a seminar in Liverpool, UK.

The diseases can cause misery to those who have them and also have a devastating impact on their family and wider economy. For example, if a parent has an NTD and is incapacitated as a result, it can force children to drop out of school to fill their role.

It is estimated that for every $1 (Dh3.7) spent on NTDs, $27 to $42 is generated in economic benefit. Many of the most common NTDs can be treated for less than $0.50, (Dh1.8) per person

January 30 was chosen as World NTD Day as it is the anniversary of the London Declaration on NTDs, a disease eradication programme launched in the UK capital in 2012.

At an event in Abu Dhabi in 2017, the UAE pledged $20m (Dh73m) to a new $100m (Dh367m) fund, which it set up, to tackle river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis.