[Editor’s note: this article was written with James P. Pinkerton, a domestic policy aide in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses. He is presently a contributor to the Fox News Channel and the editor of SeriousMedicineStrategy.org]
In the past, nations of the world worked together to advance public health. Organizations such as the Red Cross have been able to cross borders, even during wartime, to rescue lives. So we might ask today: Amidst bloodshed and turmoil, uprisings and the recent murders in Itamar, can the universal desire for good health and well-being be a seed of peace in the Middle East? Amidst fear and uncertainty, can the search for medical cures be the rock upon which new confidence-building measures are established?
Amidst pervasive, and mostly justified, pessimism about a political settlement in the Middle East, one beacon stands out: Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Established before Israel was a country, Hadassah is a place where Arab doctors treat Jewish patients, and Jewish doctors treat Arab patients. As such, it is a living, functioning reminder that the values of the Hippocratic Oath are indeed transcendent.
So we can see the potential of medicine for finding common ground. But what if we were more ambitious? What if there existed, in the Middle East, a larger hub where doctors and experts could come together, focused only on a common health objective? No politics, just science. Now let’s imagine that the health objective was a cure for some dreaded disease, such as Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a quiet epidemic raging through all developed countries; its incidence is projected to quadruple in the coming decades. So wouldn’t an anti-Alzheimer’s effort be popular across borders and continents? Wouldn’t peoples who don’t even deign to recognize each other’s countries concede an Alzheimer’s cure is a goal that they could all unite around?
Suppose a World Health City were set up somewhere in the Middle East. Perhaps in Israel, which probably has the highest concentration of doctors and medical experts in the world. This World Health City (or ir habriut ha’olami in Hebrew, or madinat al soha al alamiyain Arabic), could gather the leading experts around the world and raise capital from around the world, focusing on one mission, and one mission only–curing Alzheimer’s. This World Health City could be designated by the World Health Organization or some other body for its single-purpose mission, and thus be more free of the rules and red tape that hamstring efforts in other countries.
Would such an effort succeed? We have learned that when we put our collective shoulder to the wheel, remarkable breakthroughs are possible. Smallpox had been killer for eons, and even after the principle of the smallpox vaccine was established in 1796, it still took nearly two centuries, until 1979, for the dread disease to be completely eradicated. More recently, progress has gone faster–when we applied ourselves. AIDS, completely unknown in 1981, was proven to be manageable, in many cases, within 15 years of its discovery. Even cancer death rates have fallen in half over the last 40 years. And yet we have made little progress against Alzheimer’s, even as our population grows.
Even with a Kennedy-esque “moon shot” focus, and the talents and resources of people from around the world, we would have no guarantee of success, but all our history shows us that we can be confident of substantial progress, at least.
If World Health City were built, people would come. And for a disease such as Alzheimer’s, which seems to be a product of the aging process, combined with genetic predisposition, there would be enormous value in setting up longitudinal studies of patients, from as many different ethnic groups as possible. World Health City would need to be just that–a city. Because of its international character, the familiar petty politics of passports and visas would be obviated, as they are for the United Nations. The World Health City would invite people from all over the world to participate, in a controlled and managed manner in its work.
A city planned for one purpose? There’s plenty of precedent: Oak Ridge, Tennessee was a nuclear city. Baikonur was a space city for the Soviets. And of course, Disneyland. A place where politics is left at the door, where people come together for a good cause–and hopefully learn something about common bonds.
There’s a Middle Eastern precedent for the idea that medical cures inspire friendships. The Second Book of Kings, Chapter 5, tells the story of Naaman, a Syrian general, who suffered from leprosy. Naaman came to Israel with a wagon train full of treasure, prepared to reward the Israelites if they cured him. An Israelite prophet, Elisha, told him to “go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” At first Naaman rejected the advice, but then he did as Elisha prescribed, and he was healed. Elisha refused any payment, leaving Naaman to a grateful and admiring neighbor.
World Health City could never solve all the world’s problems–but it could solve one problem–Alzheimer’s. And in so doing, it would also be remembered as World Peace City. And it could be the first of many, until the whole world was knit up in a League of Health Cities. That would be a better world, as well as a healthier world.
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