x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Prime Minister launches charity for world's blind

Three specified eye conditions, including cataracts, will be given special attention.

DUBAI // More than one million people suffering from curable forms of blindness could have their sight restored as part of Noor Dubai, a campaign launched yesterday. Noor Dubai was set up on the personal orders of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to help some of the estimated 153m people in the world living with uncorrected sight problems. Noor Dubai is expected to build on the success of last year's Dubai Cares charity initiative, which raised Dh3.4 billion (US$925m) to provide primary education to four million underprivileged children. "Noor, meaning light, will pledge to bring light to millions of people whose lives are threatened by a world of darkness," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid, speaking on behalf of his father, Sheikh Mohammed. Noor Dubai will work with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness as part of a larger project, called Vision 2020: the Right to Sight. The Dubai Health Authority will be in charge of implementing the Noor Dubai plan, working with the volunteer organisations Lions Clubs International and ORBIS International. Some 90 per cent of the world's visually impaired live in the developing world. The WHO reports that 75 per cent of blindness is treatable. It has been estimated that without effective intervention the number of blind people worldwide will rise to 76m by 2020, Sheikh Ahmed said. An estimated half a million children become blind each year due to vitamin A deficiencies, a situation the people of the UAE "will not and cannot remain idle" about, said Sheikh Ahmed. He cited Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and his "tireless efforts" in the developing world as an inspiration. The goal of the campaign is to fund eye care for adults and children in a number of countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories. It targets three eye conditions including cataracts, found in 48 per cent of blind people. Ahmed Hussain Sahib, an Iraqi expatriate, is among those who could use Noor Dubai's help. He is only six and suffers from cerebral palsy that has damaged his eyesight. Ahmed's father, Hussain Sahib, 43, said his son needs expensive corrective surgery. "He cannot control his movement or his eyes," he explained. "It affects both eyes." Mr Sahib welcomed the campaign. "This is the first such initiative I have heard of, certainly in the Arab world, and I hope that everyone everywhere will follow Sheikh Mohammed and do what is needed to help those unable to pay for eye care." Though Ahmed is receiving treatment from a government hospital, Mr Sahib said his son's treatment was still expensive. "For six months of general treatment it costs Dh30,000. We can't afford that," he said. "Without this his sight will worsen." After hearing about Ahmed from hospital staff, Sheikh Mohammed visited the family and promised to get him the treatment he needed. "We are so grateful," said Mr Sahib. "When he met Ahmed he laughed and said what a lovely boy he is." Scores of UAE officials and members of the business community attended the campaign announcement yesterday, including Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan, the Dubai police chief, who said: "The initiative is a great idea to help people with poor vision." Mr Hans Sauerteig, deputy consul for Germany, said: "It's not just something new but something with a powerful idea behind it." Also present was Raza Jafar, vice chairman of Emirates Investments Group, who lost an eye in a car accident 20 years ago. "This is a cause close to my heart," he said. "I will be looking to get as involved as possible in the campaign." Yesterday Sheikh Ahmed expressed his father's thanks to the country for its generosity last Ramadan and hoped for more of the same spirit in the weeks ahead. "We are part of one community divided only by those of us who have and those of us that have not," he said. "We owe it to our needy brothers and sisters to reach out and lend our support to help them overcome their challenges and suffering. Our message to them is: we will not ignore you." @email:loatway@thenational.ae @email:eharnan@thenational.ae