Winners announced for $1m UAE health prize

Doctors from Ghana, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Philippines receive funding for innovative community approaches to eliminating infectious diseases.

Five doctors working on the frontline of disease elimination have each received up to $200,000 from Abu Dhabi’s Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE) to support new projects aimed at stamping out the last vestiges of polio, malaria, river blindness and lymphatic filariasis from their communities.

The recipients of the inaugural Falcon Awards for Disease Elimination - launched in April and unveiled at Expo 2020 Dubai - were chosen from a field of 220 applications from more than 40 countries.

Their submissions included: rapid polio testing for polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the mapping of river blindness transmission zones in Ghana; incentivising community leaders to promote polio vaccines; and extended and joint surveillance of malaria and lymphatic filariasis in the Philippines.

“Innovation is vital if we want to eliminate ancient diseases of poverty,” said Simon Bland, GLIDE’s chief executive officer. “The quality of applications we received from individuals and organisations based in disease-endemic countries, is testament to the will to consign these diseases to the history books. We just need to act on it.”

The FADE 2021 winners

Dr Jai Das — section head, Public Health and Epidemiology at Aga Khan University, Pakistan.

Dr Muhammad Salman — chief of the Public Health Laboratories Division of Pakistan’s National Institute of Health.

Dr Abdul Samid Al-Kubati — technical manager of Yemen’s National Leprosy Elimination Program.

Dr Fe Esperanza Espino — medical specialist in the Department of Health at The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Philippines.

Professor Daniel Adjei Boakye — senior technical advisor at the END Fund, based at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Ghana.

In Pakistan, Dr Jai Das, of Aga Khan University, will use his award money to tackle vaccine hesitancy – the main barrier to the country stamping out its final cases of polio – by incentivising community leaders to promote vaccination. If leaders meet their immunisation targets, they will be rewarded with new community infrastructure of their choice.

The aim is to counter misconceptions about vaccine side-effects held by some of Pakistan’s religious and political groups. In some parts of the country, resistance to vaccination is so extreme, there have been deadly attacks on immunisation teams and their security escorts.

“Behavourial change is difficult, but we have used this approach previously to promote better sanitation and tackle incidence of childhood diarrhoea and it showed very good results,” said Dr Das. “The community feels empowered because they have short-term achievable targets and they get rewards that they choose.”

“They feel like they are making their own decisions, rather than having external people coming in telling them what to do,” he added

Dr Das will pilot the scheme in two municipalities where there are high levels of polio vaccine refusals and then compare vaccine take-up with other municipalities where there are no incentives. If successful, it will be rolled out to other parts of Balochistan and Karachi, where polio immunisation is lower.

“If we are able to show positive results from this initiative, I think it will have a huge impact,” he said.

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In some parts of Pakistan, resistance to vaccination is so extreme, there have been deadly attacks on immunisation teams and their security escorts. Photo credit: Getty Images.

“We need more of this sort of South-South cooperation and also capacity building.” 

Dr Fe Esperanza Espino, medical specialist, The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, Dr Fe Esperanza Espino, a medical specialist in the Department of Health at The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, will be piloting a dual surveillance of malaria and lymphatic filariasis in the province of Palawan.

Community health workers will be equipped with tablets to collect a brief history and a geolocation of all patients visiting rural health facilities, as well as checking for antibodies using a rapid diagnostic test.

Although Dr Espino has used this method to track malaria cases, it is the first time in Southeast Asia that it has been applied to malaria and lymphatic filariasis at the same time.

“The better information we have about these diseases and where they are, the better decisions we can make about effective and targeted responses,” Dr Espino told Philanthropy Age.

“This is an important initiative from GLIDE because it allows country teams to set their agenda,” she added. “We need more of this sort of south-south cooperation as well as capacity building. In disease elimination, the bottom line is that the countries and communities have to do it themselves.”

In addition to the funding, all five winners will receive technical and advocacy support from GLIDE.

Launched in 2019, GLIDE is a UAE-based health institute set-up with $20m in funding from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It aims to accelerate global thinking and progress on disease elimination with a focus on malaria, polio, lymphatic filariasis, and river blindness.

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 river blindness and lymphatic filariasis in seven countries. PA