Donors pledge $777m for NTD fight at COP28

Commitments announced at COP28 seek to improve the lives of 1.6 billion people affected by devastating yet preventable diseases

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Global donors pledged a collective US$777.2m to help control, eliminate, and eradicate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) during the 2023 Reaching the Last Mile Forum. The high-level pledging event, which took place during “health day” at COP28, was hosted by Reaching the Last Mile, the global health initiative driven by the philanthropy of UAE president, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Reaching the Last Mile and the Gates Foundation each pledged US$100m to expand the Reaching the Last Mile Fund (RLMF) from US$100m to $500m.

This expansion will increase the reach of the fund from seven countries to 39 across Africa and Yemen, with the goal of eliminating two NTDs, lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness), from the continent of Africa. 

Additional contributions were made by country and donor partners including Sierra Leone, the Carter Center, Sightsavers, the Children’s Investment Foundation Fund (CIFF), The Helmsley Charitable Trust, the END Fund, and Abu Dhabi National Insurance Company.

NTDs blind, maim and disfigure their victims, keeping children out of school, adults out of work, and trapping families in poverty. Yet, most are preventable or treatable.

“Climate change is inextricably linked to poverty and diseases affecting millions,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who attended the pledging moment in the main plenary at COP28.

“That is why funding for lifesaving healthcare is critical and why we’re joining global partners to build on the tremendous progress of the Reaching the Last Mile Fund to date, and accelerate the elimination of LF and river blindness across Africa and beyond,” he added.

“Climate change is inextricably linked to poverty and diseases affecting millions."

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed Al Nahyan, chairman of the Office of Development Affairs at the UAE’s Presidential Court, which oversees Reaching the Last Mile, said: “We reaffirm our pledge to eliminate these diseases of poverty, and save and improve lives worldwide. Climate change is already affecting the patterns of infectious diseases and risking the tremendous gains countries have made to date.

“The Reaching the Last Mile Fund represents a historic opportunity to free communities across Africa from the threat of two NTDs, and in partnership unlock the potential for a healthier world.”

Since its launch in 2017, the RLMF has provided more than 100 million treatments, trained 1.3 million health workers, and established nine laboratories to support NTD surveillance and testing.

The fund has also played a critical role in interrupting the transmission of river blindness in Niger, an achievement once thought to be scientifically impossible in Africa, and has supported Senegal in nearing this milestone.

The COP28 pledging moment saw new, multimillion-dollar commitments made by organisations including: the Anesvad Foundation; Global Health EDCTP3; UBS Optimus Foundation; NALA Foundation; Evidence Action; Helen Keller Intl; and the Fred Hollows Foundation, in addition to the governments of Germany and Belgium. This took the total raised to more than US$777m.

This new financing will help close the funding gap needed to expedite progress towards the WHO roadmap targets which call for at least 100 countries to have eliminated at least one NTD by 2030, and to reduce by 90% the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs.

To date, 50 countries have eliminated at least one NTD and 600 million people no longer require treatment. Cases of some diseases that have plagued communities for centuries, such as Guinea worm disease and sleeping sickness, are at an all-time low.

However, climate change is affecting the reach and prevalence of infectious diseases like NTDs, threatening to erase elimination gains and stall future progress.

The commitments will help finance essential programs and treatments, support new research and innovations, and strengthen frontline health systems and workforces, among other investments. 

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said “This partnership, especially in the face of challenges posed by climate change, represents a beacon of hope and a testament to what can be achieved through united global action.”

More than 450 government ministers, global health and development experts, philanthropists, and civil society leaders attended the 2023 the Last Mile Forum to explore the the effects of the climate crisis on human health and galvanise action to country these impacts.