Philanthropic organizations are playing an increasingly prominent role in global health, but their rise raises questions of accountability and whether deep-pocketed private organizations could distort the larger global health agenda. Here’s what you need to know about Chan’s and Zuckerberg’s plans.
What is the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative?
CZI will provide $3 billion over the next 10 years through a program called Chan Zuckerberg Science. Its first phase will provide $600 million to researchers at three San Francisco Bay-area universities — Stanford and the University of California at both Berkeley and San Francisco — to create the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub to focus on research and development of new techniques to treat diseases.
How is the approach of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative different?
How much money is $3 billion in context?
What is the main criticism of CZI and similar endeavors?
Some observers have asked whether private organizations should launch independent public health efforts without oversight or any obligation to account for their work. Rather than putting its resources into an existing organization like the World Health Organization, CZI — like Gates — is creating its own institution and building its own network of collaborating institutions.
Do we want private individuals and institutions to have so much say in how the world tackles something as critical as health? Given CZI’s LLC status, it’s unclear whether outsiders will be able to assess the efficacy of its investments. Nor can the global health community know whether CZI’s attention can or will be sustained.
But can CZI benefit global health anyway?
CZI and other global health philanthropies can complement other global health efforts. CZI can do things that organizations like WHO can’t do.
For example, organizations like WHO can’t really fund scientific research on their own. Organizations like CZI have shown a greater willingness to take more risks than governments, shift resources around more quickly, and encourage national governments to continue to invest in global health. If CZI remains separate from WHO, Chan and Zuckerberg won’t be able to use their resources to change WHO’s agenda, a charge levied against many of the voluntary contributions given to WHO.
Instead, CZI is focusing its resources on one particular niche within global health, aiming to fill a gap rather than trying to be everything and encouraging bold strategies. What remains to be seen, of course, is whether its ambitious plan will yield useful outcomes.
CZI’s 10-year program isn’t likely to eliminate disease. Zuckerberg himself noted during Chan Zuckerberg Science’s unveiling that it “doesn’t mean no one will ever get sick.” But CZI’s efforts can add to what the world already has, bringing more research and more attention to global health.
Jeremy Youde is a fellow and senior lecturer in international relations at the Australian National University and chairperson of the Global Health section of the International Studies Association. Follow him on Twitter @jeremyyoude.