New $22.5m commitment for Abu Dhabi-led disease elimination campaign

The donation to the Reaching the Last Mile Fund will target neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Sudan.

An Abu Dhabi-backed campaign seeking to end the scourge of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) has received a funding injection of US$22.5million to boost its elimination efforts in three East African countries.

The donation from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, a US-based foundation, to the Reaching the Last Mile Fund (RLMF) will be used to accelerate the treatment and elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (LF) in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Sudan.

“Collaboration is key,” said Walter Panzirer, a trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, who came to Abu Dhabi to announce the funding.

“This is something bigger than everyone. Not one person, one organisation, or one foundation can do this alone,” he added. “We hope our funds act as a catalyst to bring even more funders here to achieve elimination of these neglected tropical diseases.”

The RLMF is a 10-year $100m multi-donor platform launched in 2017 by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to target river blindness and lymphatic filariasis in seven countries (Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, Sudan, Mali, Senegal, and Yemen).

Both a symptom and a cause of poverty, NTDs affect more than 1.7billion people globally, thriving in the most marginalised corners of the world – remote, rural communities or conflict zones, where health systems are weak – despite being easily preventable and treatable.

River blindness, transmitted by the bites of blackflies, is the world’s second-leading infectious cause of blindness.  LF, meanwhile, is a mosquito-borne disease, known by its symptom elephantiasis. It affects more than 120 million people worldwide and of those, more than 40 million are incapacitated or disfigured by the disease.

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Lelamo Mukhtar Turgemu lives in Sankura, Ethiopia, with his wife and ten children. He used to be a prosperous farmer and landowner, but since the onset of advanced lymphatic filariasis, he has been unable to work and was forced to sell his land. Like many NTD sufferers, he is now trapped in a cycle of poverty and can no longer provide for his family.

The RLMF is administered by the End Fund, a philanthropic initiative and US nonprofit, which works with governments, the World Health Organisation, pharmaceutical companies, the private sector, and community organisations to map and treat NTDs.

This new commitment from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to the RLMF is one of its largest to-date. It comes just months after one of its target countries, Niger, announced it was seeking certification to be verified free from river blindness.

Tala Al-Ramahi, associate director, Office of Strategic Affairs, Crown Prince Court, said the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s support was “testament to how highly regarded the Reaching the Last Mile Fund was worldwide” and she called on “other like-minded philanthropists and organisations” to support the initiative on its elimination journey.

Alan McCormick, a partner at Legatum, the investment company which set up the END Fund, of which he is also a board member, said the funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust had come at “an important time” with the elimination of NTDs “not only in sight, but possible within our lifetimes”.

He added: “This is one of the best returns that you can get anywhere in philanthropy. You put a dollar to work here and you can change two lives. –PA