UAE foundation in $1m bid to fight neglected tropical diseases

UAE-based education foundation Dubai Cares has signed a three-year, $1m partnership to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Namibia

A UAE-based education foundation has signed a three-year, $1m partnership to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Namibia. Dubai Cares will work with US-based private philanthropic organisation The END Fund, in an effort to tackle a group of diseases that blights 1.5 billion lives globally and keeps hundreds of millions of children out of school.

The programme aims to treat at least 410,000 children between the ages of five and 15, and who are at risk of schistosomiasis and intestinal worms – two of 17 diseases classified by the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) as NTDs. It is part of an integrated health, nutrition and sanitation push in the southern African country, designed to keep children healthy so they do not drop out of school.

“De-worming children has been shown to reduce absenteeism by 30 per cent,” said Ellen Agler, CEO of The END Fund. “If kids aren’t at school or healthy enough to learn, then you’re not going to get much out of education interventions. Education and health go hand-in-hand.”

Typically, NTDs are caused by parasitic worms and bacterial infections that spread easily, causing fever, aches, or swelling in patients. Worldwide, it is estimated that 800 million children are affected by this group of diseases.

While NTDs are not usually fatal, they can lead to serious and chronic conditions if left untreated. Using donated medicines, The END Fund says it costs just $0.50 per person a year to deliver medication for the five most common NTDs: schistosomiasis, intestinal worms, trachoma, river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. Nevertheless, Agler warned that - even at this price - more needs to be done to achieve sufficient scale.

Some 700 million people globally live in schistosomiasis-endemic areas. Mass treatment programmes require manpower and the trust of the community, through mobilisation and radio campaigns, to reach poor and rural populations. These communities also need access to clean water: a privilege denied to 780 million people globally, according to the WHO.

“People often call them neglected diseases, but the diseases are not neglected. It’s really about neglected people,” said Agler. “These are people living in rural poverty without access to basic water and sanitation and that’s why they get these diseases.”

In 2012, an alliance of pharmaceutical companies, global health organisations and governments launched the London Declaration aimed at controlling or eliminating 10 of the most prevalent NTDs. The Dubai Cares-END Fund initiative in Namibia follows earlier partnerships between the two organisations in Angola and Liberia, to treat intestinal worms and schistosomiasis in children.