An interview with His Excellency Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares.
How and when did Dubai Cares get involved in the NTD space?
As part of the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Paris during April 2012, Dubai Cares joined a global alliance led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with 13 leading pharmaceutical companies, global health organizations, private foundations and donors, and governments pledging support to reduce the global burden of NTDs. Before joining this global alliance, our first deworming program was launched in Palestine in 2010. This program aimed at addressing the needs of school children in the West Bank and Gaza for control of intestinal worm infection through a comprehensive deworming campaign to promote and improve their health status. One of Dubai Cares’ strategic approaches to improving student enrollment and learning outcomes is through an integrated school health and nutrition model that is made up of school-based deworming activities, school feeding, and WASH (water, sanitation & hygiene) in schools.
Why did Dubai Cares begin funding NTD programs?
As we all know, NTDs keep children out of school, parents out of work, and cause stunting and impaired brain development, locking societies into endless cycles of poverty. According to the WHO, healthier citizens would generate an estimated US$ 623 billion in increased productivity between 2015 and 2030 – meaning that for each US$ 1 invested in NTD scale-up, endemic countries would see productivity gains of US$ 51 from 2015-2020 and US$ 184 for 2021-2030.
Fighting NTDs is a priority for Dubai Cares, and we make sure our investments complement the work of governments in developing countries in combatting these diseases. Our aim is to concentrate on areas where existing funds are scarce, where our support can have a catalytic effect. We also advocate for increased international funding to support the global efforts. To control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases, it is highly important for governments to lead efforts in combatting NDTs with the support of the international community.
Dubai Cares will remain one of the leading global philanthropic organizations involved in combatting these diseases.
How does the NTD program fit into the larger goals of Dubai Cares?
Since its inception, Dubai Cares has been working towards providing children and young people in developing countries with access to quality education through the design and funding of programs that aim to be integrated, impactful, sustainable and scalable. Our main priority as a philanthropic organization is quality education and we see NTDs as contributing factor to absenteeism and school dropouts.
As part of Dubai Cares’ global efforts in fighting NTDs, 33.7 million children have benefited from our deworming activities in developing countries. Furthermore, out of the 33.7 million children who have received deworming treatment from Dubai Cares-funded mass drug administration (MDA) programs, 2.8 million have also benefitted from integrated education and health programs. These programs are implemented in Palestine, Ethiopia (through implementation and research), Angola, Vietnam, and India.
What does the NTD work of Dubai Cares mean to you personally, Tariq and why is it important to you?
NTDs disproportionately affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. Historically, these diseases have a very low priority on the global health agenda, despite affecting one billion lives. Dubai Cares’ goal is to contribute to tackling diseases that impede development, preventing the poorest children and young people from accessing education.
Our mission as a philanthropic organization is to bring children to school and at the same time provide them with quality education for better learning outcomes. But as we all know, intestinal worms prevent children in some countries from enrolling and attending school. In addition, children going to school and infected with these diseases lose focus and concentration which consequently leads to high dropout rates. We see this as a challenge that Dubai Cares wants to take up along with its international partners in order to reduce human suffering and, through improvement in socioeconomic status, to reduce the conditions that exacerbate poverty; and to highlight the public health importance of these diseases in affected communities.
When I was in my first years at school in the late 70s, and when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was on the verge of development, I remember lining up with other children to take deworming pills at school. Thanks to the precautionary measures taken by the UAE government at that time, we can see the results in terms of my personal health and how the UAE has progressed to become a developed nation.
Why should other investors join the fight against NTDs?
Tackling NTDs increases school enrollment and completion; it strengthens childhood growth and cognitive development, and boosts economic productivity in adults. I believe these diseases are no longer as neglected as they used to be in the past, thanks to the tremendous efforts made by governments and some pharmaceutical companies who are already helping with drug donations as well as research and development. We now need more involvement from this sector to eradicate these diseases more rapidly. Moreover, a lot of efforts have also been made by some NGOs and philanthropic organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Evidence Action, the END Fund, Dubai Cares and others.
We hope many other organizations in this sector will also join the cause in eradicating these deadly infectious diseases. We urge leaders of prominent global health and development organizations, governments, along with the private sector to invest and be more involved in combating NTDs. They should unite their efforts to support achieving universal health coverage with essential interventions. These combined efforts in fighting NTDs will, in turn, lead to healthier and more economically productive societies, which is in the interest of humanity.
Anything else you want people to know about your involvement in NTDs?
The international community must unite their efforts to combat NTD by harnessing the very best talent, resources, knowledge and experience, to end these diseases once and for all. We are convinced that research plays a vital role in the development and implementation of new means of tackling NTDs. We also see the London Declaration as the most important coalition that will certainly create new movements bringing together governments, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs, as well as philanthropic organizations and the private sector in their fight against NTD.
We will continue to work collaboratively with key partners to design an integrated multi-sectoral approach in addressing undernutrition for children. Interventions in fighting these diseases promise large economic growth as they improve educational outcomes and worker productivity. With the boost to the momentum being made today, I hope that almost all of these diseases can be eliminated or controlled before 2030.