Abu Dhabi: The World Health Assembly has officially recognised 30 January as World NTD Day. This came as delegates at the seventy-fourth World Health Assembly met on May 27th, and endorsed adding World NTD Day to the World Health Organisation’s official global calendar.

World NTD Day was informally launched in 2020 to galvanise the global health community and engage the general public in the urgent effort to end Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). These diseases affect more than 1.7 billion people, often those living in extreme poverty, remote communities, and lacking access to basic needs like clean water, and cost developing economies billions of dollars every year.

Ahmed Al Jarman, Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations Office and other International Organisations in Geneva, said, “The consensus reflects the close cooperation between the different partners including the World Health Organisation and expresses the willingness of the international community to challenge these widespread diseases. We are proud today to lead the fruitful work to reach together a common agreement to take stock every year of the progress made internationally, regionally and locally by all concerned stakeholders to overcome Neglected Tropical Diseases and end the suffering of millions of people around the world.”

The day increased in prominence in 2021, with more than 360 organisations from 61 countries partnering to draw attention to NTDs and mark the launch of WHO’s new 10-year roadmap to tackle NTDs. More than 65 landmarks across 43 cities and 26 countries were illuminated and leaders and individuals from all over the globe raised their voices to elevate this important conversation on social media.

Official recognition of World NTD Day will help drive progress on NTDs by drawing greater attention, increasing political and public will, and mobilising global action.

The UAE helmed diplomatic efforts to obtain official recognition of the day, while the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court played a lead role in building partnerships and supporting the establishment of the day. Several WHO Member States were instrumental in building consensus to support World NTD Day, and the decision, proposed by the UAE alongside Oman and Brazil, was adopted unanimously.

“World NTD Day is in appreciation of the work spearheaded by the United Arab Emirates along with other Member States and partners to inspire and incentivise communities to fight these debilitating diseases,” said Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “I am confident this recognition will further motivate everyone to work across sectors to implement the new road map, which aims to free over a billion people from these diseases by 2030.”

Efforts in support of World NTD Day continue the UAE’s history and leadership on global health issues and are part of Reaching the Last Mile, a portfolio of programs working towards disease elimination driven by the support of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The Initiative provides treatment and preventative care in communities that lack access to quality health services, with a specific focus on reaching the last mile of disease elimination

Thoko Elphick-Pooley, Executive Director of Uniting to Combat NTDs, said: “The decision of the 194 member states of the World Health Assembly to officially recognize 30 January as World NTD Day is a major boost in the fight against neglected tropical diseases. Thank you to His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Government of The United Arab Emirates for your incredible support, alongside Brazil and Oman, in mobilising member states and partners to support this effort on behalf of 1.7 billion people and for your unwavering commitment to ending these diseases of poverty. Together, we will beat NTDs.”

Significant progress has been made since the landmark 2012 London Declaration on NTDs, which unified partners across sectors, countries and disease communities to push for greater investment and action on NTDs. Today, hundreds of millions of people no longer require treatment for NTDs and several countries have eliminated diseases which had been prevalent for thousands of years.

But despite this progress, challenges remain, as one out of every five people in the world are impacted by these preventable diseases. NTDs are responsible for thousands of preventable deaths each year and cause impairments that perpetuate the cycle of poverty by keeping millions of adults out of work and children out of school. Complicating efforts towards progress, COVID-19 only further compounded the impact of NTDs on communities in the past year.

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