On World NTD Day, Reaching the Last Mile joins with governments and partners to lead global call for collective action and investment to end neglected tropical diseases

3 February 2023
Global health and government leaders, together with key members of civil society, convened to eliminate neglected tropical diseases globally on World NTD Day

Abu Dhabi, UAE. February 3, 2023 – Reaching the Last Mile (RLM), a portfolio of global health programs driven by the philanthropy of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, on Monday joined with governments, partners, and global health leaders to celebrate World NTD Day and highlight the urgent need for renewed investment and action to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) globally by 2030.

In Geneva, RLM partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UAE Mission to the UN to convene high-level stakeholders in recognition of the day. Held at WHO headquarters alongside the 152nd session of the organization’s Executive Board meeting, attendees including government representatives, civil society actors and global health advocates discussed the need for greater collaboration between donors and endemic countries in order to meet the elimination targets laid out in the WHO’s 2030 roadmap.

His Excellency Ahmed Aljarman, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said: “In May 2021, the World Health Assembly adopted a decision submitted by the United Arab Emirates and its partners to recognize January 30th as World NTD Day. We are proud to celebrate this day and remain committed to driving progress and investment in NTDs while fostering collaboration and cooperation between climate and NTD stakeholders.”

Dr Barnabé Gning, Director General for Health of Senegal, highlighted Senegal’s past success in interrupting the transmission of several diseases, paving the way towards the elimination of NTDs in the West African nation. “We urge all partners to continue investing in actions and multi-sectoral partnerships to drive these efforts forward,” he said.

In New York, RLM joined with co-hosts the END Fund and the WHO to unveil Reframing Neglect, a photography showcase directed by contemporary artist and activist Aïda Muluneh, which highlights the need to stamp out NTDs globally. The launch of the exhibit at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York City on World NTD Day brought together voices from across the global health, arts, and sports sectors to demonstrate the power of art for advocacy and inspire collective action to accelerate progress towards NTD elimination.

Attendees at the reception, which was moderated by Benny Bonsu, award-winning sports broadcaster and UNESCO Fit for Life and Gender Equality Advocate, included the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, Afghan-Danish professional footballer, physician, and UNESCO Champion for Girls’ and Women’s Education Dr Nadia Nadim, and leaders from the WHO and the governments of Indonesia and the UAE.

In an address to participants, His Excellency Mohamed Abushahab, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of the UAE to the UN in New York, said: “I wish to thank the World Health Organization, the END Fund, and Reaching the Last Mile for organizing this powerful exhibition on the impact of neglected tropical diseases.

“NTDs are treatable and preventable, and it is up to all of us, working together as a global community, to harness the tools and expertise to meet this challenge. We look forward to further collaboration with our partners as we continue on the path towards the prevention, mitigation, and end of NTDs worldwide.”

Reframing Neglect features work from seven photographers, including Muluneh, from six African countries where NTD burdens remain high. Through fine art and documentary photography, the artists promote the cause and effects of NTDs, using art as a tool of shared human emotion, while addressing the ongoing need to spread awareness of these diseases, which still cause severe pain, long-term disability, and death each year.

“NTDs are a group of treatable, preventable diseases that needlessly hold back the lives and livelihoods of 1.7 billion people, a disproportionate number of whom are women and girls,” said Muluneh. “Art has the capacity to shift perceptions, complementing more traditional modes of advocacy. My hope is that this collection helps educate and inspire audiences to action for NTD elimination, while also sharing an African perspective through the work of myself and the other photographers featured in the collection.”

The debut of Reframing Neglect at the UN on World NTD Day represented a key convergence of leaders within global health, arts, and sports, all unified in their shared drive for the end of NTDs. In a joint statement, Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Director of the Department of Control of NTDs, WHO, and Ellen Agler, Chief Executive Officer, the END Fund, said:

“On World NTD Day we remind ourselves how critical it is to co-invest alongside our government partners in support of their vision. Only by centering communities most affected by neglected tropical diseases and building partnerships that support local leadership and strengthen health systems will the NTD 2030 roadmap targets be met.

“Today we celebrate the 47 countries that have already eliminated at least one NTD, and the steadfast support from our partners in the pharmaceutical industry and program implementation who have helped make this happen. We are deeply encouraged by the leadership of countries like Niger, Senegal, and others that are building on this momentum and offering hope that we can indeed match the scale of the problem presented by NTDs and improve the lives and livelihoods of 1.7 billion people globally.”

RLM also co-hosted World NTD Day celebrations in Senegal, where it has worked in partnership with the country to help combat river blindness, a neglected tropical disease that is spread by the bites of infected black flies. Through its Reaching the Last Mile Fund (RLMF), a 10-year, US$100m fund launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and supported by donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, RLM has provided critical disease mapping and surveillance efforts in support of the country’s elimination efforts.

Attendees at the event included Mohammed Ali Aylan Alshamsi, Deputy Ambassador of the UAE to Senegal, and Senegal’s Minister of Health and Social Action, Dr Marie Khemesse Ngom Ndiaye.

In the lead-up to World NTD Day, RLM also co-hosted and participated in a seminar alongside the global nonprofit Path and the Commonwealth Secretariat. The event, which was held in London, highlighted the impact of climate change on preventable diseases such as NTDs, and explored opportunities to better protect vulnerable communities from the effects of changing weather patterns. The event was attended by Deputy Ambassador Khaled Al Qasimi of the UAE Embassy in London.



About World NTD Day

Held on January 30, World NTD Day aims to mobilise political will and secure commitments to eliminate neglected tropical diseases in support of the WHO’s NTD Roadmap 2021-2030. World NTD Day was launched in 2019 by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and formally recognised by the WHO in 2021, through an effort championed by the UAE and other committed partners.


About neglected tropical diseases

NTDs are a group of communicable diseases that are preventable and treatable, yet continue to affect more than 1.7 billion people worldwide, including 1 billion children. There are currently 20 diseases and disease groups defined as NTDs by the World Health Organization (WHO), including river blindness (onchocerciasis), leprosy, elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), Guinea worm disease and rabies.

NTDs cause immeasurable suffering – they debilitate, disfigure and can be fatal. By most commonly affecting vulnerable and marginalised populations – who often live in remote communities – NTDs create cycles of poverty and cost developing nations billions of dollars each year. Nearly 40% of the global NTD burden is shouldered by Africa.