16 November 2017 | Geneva -- The World Health Organization (WHO) has welcomed the launch of a US$100 million dollar fund to accelerate the elimination of two devastating infectious neglected tropical diseases – onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) – that are prevalent in all of WHO’s regions except the European Region.
The announcement of the 10-year fund was made during the Reaching the Last Mile: mobilizing together to eliminate infectious disease global health forum held in Abu Dhabi on 15 November, which focused on the eradication of two diseases – polio and Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis).
His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, committed US$ 20 million. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged US$ $20 million. The remaining US$ 60 million will be raised by working with other donors and foundations.
“We are proud to launch the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, a global partnership that will build on past successes and complement ongoing international efforts to free the world of two devastating preventable diseases,” said His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. “Elimination would help to lift millions more out of poverty, and drive a positive multiplier effect across the continent. There is a need for long-term vision and global partnership to achieve this, and we welcome partners to join us in making an impact..”
The Reaching the Last Mile Fund will be administered by The END Fund – a philanthropic investment platform.
“The announcement comes at a time when efforts by various national elimination programmes and the two global eradication programmes are making record-breaking progress thanks to effective global partnerships and increased commitment by countries,” said Dr Ren Minghui, WHO Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases. “This additional funding should motivate governments to invest more and integrate delivery of interventions against the neglected tropical diseases to provide enhanced and equitable access towards achieving universal health coverage.”
The Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reiterated its support of up to £30 million (about US$ 40 million) to tackle Guinea worm disease for 4 years from 2018. The funding is part of a package of £360 million (US$ 470 million) announced in April this year and will assist national eradication programmes in the remaining four endemic countries. 1
A new research institute that will develop policies to combat infectious disease, and be based in Abu Dhabi, was also announced. The Abu Dhabi global health summit was held under the patronage of His Highness the Crown Prince and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Carter Center.
Global partnership and the role of the private sector were important themes of a moderated live discussion – Partnering for disease conversation – that included the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said that WHO stands ready to work in all transparency with everyone, except the tobacco and the arms sectors.
“Our partnerships should not be based on suspicion ... the partnerships should be based on what we can address, the challenges we face to best serve the people, so a people-centred approach should be the main principle in our engagement and partnerships.”
For more than two decades, WHO has been working with government agencies, foundations, and local and international partners, alongside health ministries in endemic countries, to deliver quality-assured medicines and provide people with care and long-term management of neglected tropical diseases.
During the Global Partners Meeting (Geneva, 19 April 2017), governments, partners, philanthropists and industry representatives pledged a cumulative total of US$ 800 million dollars over the next 5–7 years to accelerate the elimination and eradication of neglected tropical diseases.
During the meeting, one of Abu Dhabi’s highest awards – the Federation Medal – was presented by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Mr Bill Gates in recognition of his contribution to supporting disease elimination and eradication. The Crown Prince also presented a new award that acknowledges exceptional contributions from individuals in the fight against diseases. Among those honoured is former President Jimmy Carter. The Carter Center has been at the forefront in the fight against Guinea worm disease since 1987.
The meeting was hosted by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and attended by ministers of health, the Director-General of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the President of the World Bank Group Dr Jim Young Kim and other public health leaders.
Neglected tropical diseases
Neglected tropical diseases blind, maim, disfigure and debilitate hundreds of millions of people in urban slums and in the poorest parts of the world.
Once widely prevalent, these diseases are now mostly confined to tropical and subtropical regions where unsafe water, inadequate hygiene and sanitation, and poor housing conditions persist. Poor people living in remote, rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones are most at risk.
More than 70% of the countries and territories that report the presence of neglected tropical diseases are low or lower-middle income economies.