The Global Institute for Disease Elimination awards USD1 million to ground-breaking health projects in endemic countries

The Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE) has announced the winners of its inaugural Falcon Awards for Disease Elimination. The announcement took place today on Universal Health Coverage Day at EXPO 2020 Dubai, highlighting the international and innovative efforts underway to achieve health for all.

Launched in April this year, the Falcon Awards received 220 applications from across 44 countries, as part of a drive to discover and implement innovative approaches to disease elimination which focus on eliminating one or more of GLIDE’s four focus diseases: malaria, polio, lymphatic filariasis and river blindness.

Malaria, polio and neglected tropical diseases thrive in resource-poor parts of the world, often in tropical and subtropical areas and amongst the most marginalised populations. Today, over 1.7 billion people suffer under the burden of these diseases. The Falcon Awards will support community-based initiatives by empowering local actors with the tools and financial backing to rid the world of these preventable diseases.

The winners of GLIDE’s inaugural Falcon Awards for Disease Elimination are:

● Dr Jai Das, Assistant Professor for the Division of Women and Child Health and Section Head, Public Health and Epidemiology at Aga Khan University, Pakistan: Dr Das will use personalised incentives such as cash transfers, voucher schemes, and lotteries to encourage greater uptake of polio vaccines. The project will be rolled out in the districts of Karachi and Pishin, two of 40 Super High-Risk Union Councils identified by the government as hotbeds of vaccine refusals and poliovirus circulation.

● Dr Muhammad Salman, Chief of the Public Health Laboratories Division of Pakistan’s National Institute of Health: Dr Salman will use innovative molecular detection technology and genomic surveillance of poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan, for the first time. The technology will help reduce the timeline of poliovirus testing to reporting from 21 to seven days.

● Dr Abdul Samid Al-Kubati, Technical Manager of Yemen’s National Leprosy Elimination Program: Dr Al-Kubati’s project is focused on sustaining the elimination lymphatic filariasis (LF) as a public health problem in Yemen, as validated by the World Health Organization in 2019. His project will deliver effective, efficient, quality and affordable health services to mitigate the impact of LF to improve the overall health status for Yemenis and accelerate economic growth.

● Dr Fe Esperanza Espino, Medical Specialist in the Department of Health at The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Philippines: Dr Espino will implement innovative surveillance techniques to help eliminate malaria and LF in eight provinces across the Philippines where they currently co-exist. The project will equip trained “barangay” (community) health workers with android tablets to collect a brief history and a geolocation of patients who visit rural health facilities.

● Professor Daniel Adjei Boakye, Senior Technical Advisor at the END Fund, based at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, Ghana: Professor Boakye’s project will carry out a series of targeted field studies in Ghana’s Nkwanta North District to refine the multi-village model for preventing river blindness and identify the best treatment strategies for the disease. Results from the study will also help in redefining transmission zones for other neglected tropical diseases programmes, ensuring these zones are targeted with specific interventions.

The winners were selected by a jury of global health experts including Professor Maha Taysir Barakat, Board Chair of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria; Dr Sarthak Das, Chief Executive Officer of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance; Dr Tunji Funsho, Chair of Rotary’s National PolioPlus Committee; and Dr Katey Owen, Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Simon Bland, Chief Executive Officer of GLIDE, said: “Innovation is vital if we want to eliminate ancient diseases of poverty. The quality of applications we received from individuals and organisations based in disease-endemic countries, is testament to the will to consign these diseases to the history books. We just need to act on it. We are immensely grateful to our jury, who took time out of their demanding day jobs to select five winners from our 10 talented finalists. Above all, we look forward to working with the winners over the coming year, bringing their innovative disease elimination strategies to life.”

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