UAE health prize hopes to speed path to disease elimination

Abu Dhabi-based GLIDE launches award calling for new, catalytic approaches to wiping out diseases of poverty.

A new award launched by the UAE’s Global Institute for Disease Elimination aims to find and reward novel ideas that could help stop the blight of infectious diseases, its organisers have said.

The Falcon Awards will grant five prizes of up to $200,000 each to groups whose work could potentially speed the elimination of one or more of GLIDE’s four focus diseases – polio, malaria, lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness.

In doing so, the Abu Dhabi-based institute hopes to uncover breakthrough approaches that could help solve existing roadblocks, plug gaps, and edge more countries along the last mile of disease elimination.

“This is a search for ideas and talent,” Simon Bland, chief executive of GLIDE, told Philanthropy Age. “We hope to not only add to the global understanding of disease practice, but also test new approaches and help to identify new avenues and methods of collaboration.”

GLIDE launched in 2019 with $20m in funding from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The institute’s aim is to accelerate global thinking and progress on disease elimination, with the goal of shrinking the worldwide burden of preventable disease.

The institute, which was first announced in 2017, is one of a series of philanthropic commitments made by Sheikh Mohamed in support of global efforts to wipe out polio, malaria, and various neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

The crown prince is also the co-founder of the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, a 10-year, $100m and multi-donor initiative created in conjunction with the Gates Foundation, which is working to stamp out onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis in seven countries.

"This is a search for ideas and talent." 

Simon Bland, chief executive, GLIDE.

With the Falcon Awards, GLIDE hopes to champion an integrated and community-led approach to wiping out diseases of poverty.

The prize will focus on projects in endemic countries in an effort to spotlight local solutions to last-mile challenges, and also encourage the sharing of lessons across countries and disease areas.

Longer-term, Bland said, the institute hopes the awards will play a role in bridging the gap between global public health campaigns and communities on the frontline of elimination efforts.

“The development space has largely worked in silos for many reasons – not least that it is easier to show impact on more discrete projects,” he said. “However, continuing to work in in this way misses a real opportunity to put people at the centre rather than a single disease.”

Covid-19 has further exposed the need for more unified healthcare systems, particularly in remote regions where care is patchy and not readily available to patients, he added.

“On a practical level, we need effective, integrated health systems to achieve our vision of a world free of preventable diseases.”

Submissions for the Falcon Awards will open on May 4, ahead of the announcement of winners in the fourth quarter of this year.

Proposals will be judged by a panel of global health experts, and are welcomed from a variety of actors including NGOs, foundations, civil society organisations, public, private and academic institutes. – PA