Abu Dhabi’s crown prince has joined with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a $100m fund to wipe out two diseases that blind and disfigure millions of the world’s poorest people.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan pledged $20m to the fund, and the Gates Foundation up to $20m, to accelerate efforts to eliminate onchocerciasis, or river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis (LF) from countries in the Middle East and Africa. The remainder will be raised from a blend of donors over the coming months.
The 10-year facility will be managed by the End Fund, a private philanthropic platform targeting neglected tropical diseases, and bolstered by in-kind contributions from drug companies GlaxoSmithKline and MSD, or Merck.
The news marks the emergence of the crown prince as a major actor in global health. It follows his long-term support for the fight to combat infections diseases such as polio and guinea worm, which health experts believe to be on the brink of eradication.
Sheikh Mohamed has given some $250m in funding towards tackling these and other diseases since 2010, last year donating $5m to the campaign to curb malaria.
“It’s a way to close the gap on funding, to attract new donors and to grow the ranks of philanthropists, policymakers and health workers all working to tackle these diseases.”
Ellen Agler, CEO, the End Fund.
This new partnership represents an opportunity to end a disease that threatens the sight of more than 120 million people, said End Fund CEO Ellen Agler.
“It’s a way to close the gap on funding, to attract new donors and to grow the ranks of philanthropists, policymakers and health workers all working to tackle these diseases,” she told Philanthropy Age.
“This fund is not about writing a cheque: it’s about bringing influence, convening power, strategic thinking and scientific capacity to bear on these diseases – and getting us over the finish line,” she added.
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) including river blindness and LF affect more than 1.5 billion of the world’s poorest people, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Close to 900 million are children.
River blindness, an infection transmitted by the bites of blackflies, is the world’s second-leading infectious cause of blindness. Endemic in 29 countries, the disease is thought to affect some 18 million people worldwide, with 99 per cent of cases in Africa.
LF is a mosquito-borne disease, also known by its symptom elephantiasis, which affects more than 120 million people worldwide. Of those, more than 40 million are incapacitated or disfigured by the disease.
Both NTDs are treatable through mass drug administration. Ivermectin, which will be donated by MSD through the Mectizan Donation Program, treats both river blindness and LF. GlaxoSmithKline will donate the deworming agent albendazole to tackle LF.
The Abu Dhabi-backed ‘Last Mile’ fund will play a critical role in accelerating efforts to free countries of these debilitating diseases, said Agler.
“We need these points of light and leadership around the world. This initiative is what is needed now to inject energy, momentum, vision and strategic planning to get us over the finish line for these diseases.” - PA