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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Reaching the Last Mile forum shows the UAE's willingness to go the distance

The country has long pursued an agenda that is rooted in humanitarian relief and compassion for those in need

The Reaching the Last Mile global health forum in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The Reaching the Last Mile global health forum in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

With the advancement of medical sciences and the building of global alliances to improve public health, the world is at a critical juncture as it seeks to eliminate some of the worst diseases on the planet. Under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the global health forum, Reaching the Last Mile, brought health experts to Abu Dhabi to discuss how private-public partnerships can make the elimination of infectious and preventable non-transferable diseases a reality. Some of those conditions are well-known, such as malaria, others perhaps less so, such as hookworm and snail fever, although they are just as destructive.

The UAE has led from the front on the road to disease elimination, particularly in combating polio. As The National reported, a vaccination campaign funded by the country has helped deliver the vaccine to 43 million children in Pakistan alone. Only five cases were reported in the country in the first 10 months of the year, a significant turnaround from just three years earlier, when 295 cases were recorded, according to the World Health Organisation. The last mile has not only been reached, it is being covered with great speed as the twin evils of miseducation and misinformation are countered and conquered by a programme of vaccine delivery and education.

The UAE’s determination has been matched by firm action for years: the country ranked as the top aid donor state in official development aid in three of the past four years. More broadly, the nation has pursued a foreign policy rooted in humanitarian relief and compassion for those most in need, an approach that was originally forged by the late Sheikh Zayed. Building bridges with entities like The Carter Center and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has allowed the UAE to accelerate and scale its generous contributions in this important fight against disease.

For other diseases, the answers are very complex. Where polio can be successfully beaten by vaccine delivery, guinea-worm is a parasitic disease that does not respond to curative medicine. And yet the disease, which affected 3.5m people a year in 20 countries 30 years ago, is close to being eradicated. Only 25 cases were diagnosed last year. It persists in four territories – Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and South Sudan – but cases have been contained through a combination of education and innovation in policy and prevention.

Disease thrives wherever there is strife and instability, poverty and injustice. To complete the last mile requires a combination of peaceful and secure societies and policymakers who are prepared to invest in research and in prevention strategies.

This country has consistently demonstrated its willingness to take up the challenge. It is always ready to stand up and fight to eliminate diseases. It is always ready to complete the last mile.