The UN should focus on health

The international body’s record fighting disease is admirable and expandable

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan have a new lofty goal: to cure, manage or eradicate all disease by the end of this century. Jeff Chiu / AP Photo
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Last week, we noted on these pages that the United Nations is struggling to fulfil its mandate to achieve peaceful solutions to the world’s conflicts. It is routine for powerful countries to say one thing in the international body and do another. The Syrian crisis is one example of how the UN is undermined by member countries and thus has difficulty implementing lasting solutions.

There are, however, several programmes that the United Nations has administered well over the years. The World Health Organisation, for example, has taken the fight against disease to remote regions of the planet. Such programmes should be the future of the UN, as it has a proven track record of good results. Instead of being a vessel for hollow rhetoric, the UN should continue to make a real difference when it comes to global health challenges.

During this year’s General Assembly, which is taking place now in New York, the world body is devoting significant time to the threat of “antimicrobial resistance” or super bugs. This is only the fourth time that the General Assembly has addressed a health issue after simiar summits on HIV, ebola and non-communicable disease. As more and more people move to urban areas and our world becomes ever more connected, global health issues will be among the most daunting challenges that we all face. The United Nations is well positioned to address these challenges and find solutions.

There might be an unlikely source of capital to fund new health programmes and expand the UN’s reach. Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a $3 billion (Dh11bn) initiative to fight disease. Mr Zuckerberg’s project joins the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as another health focused initiative endowed with money from the techsector.

The direction of travel is clear. As Silicon Valley entrepreneurs continue to earn large amounts of money, they will be more interested in donating their wealth to fight disease. With the UN’s proven track record and global reach, marrying this capital with the UN’s mandate will produce incredible results for the planet.