Chan Zuckerberg Science: Is it feasible and is it a good idea?

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife Priscilla Chan announced last week that they were pledging $3 billion of their fortune over the next ten years "to cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children's lifetime." Yes, that is not a particular disease but all disease.

The announcement has been met with mixed reactions. Some have called it a great and bold initiative and welcomed any contribution towards better health for people around the world. Most have pointed out that $3 billion is a pittance compared to the amount of money being spent on many public and private health programmes around the world, none of which have such audacious ambition. For example, the annual health budget of the National Institutes of Health in the United States that goes towards research if disease, treatment and development of vaccines is about 11 times that of the Chan Zuckerberg commitment for ten years at $32 billion.

The Chan Zuckerberg plan revolves around funding fundamental breakthroughs in medicine to target the four types of disease that cause the most death in the world – heart disease, cancer, neurological diseases and infectious diseases.

While some wonder whether the plan stems from hubris or one-upmanship of other billionaire philanthropists, The UK’s Telegraph points out that is all disease is cured in the next 80 years, it will put a huge strain on resources. “Without any deaths to offset all the births, we would have to make room on earth for an extra 208,400 people a day, or 76,066,000 a year – and that’s before those babies grow old enough to reproduce themselves,” said writer Jemima Lewis, making the point that we should aim to eliminate diseases that kills people much too young, or much too painfully but we need the diseases of old age.

Supreme Court reinforces gutkha ban

The Supreme Court on Friday came down heavily on companies circumventing the gutkha ban by selling pan masala and tobacco in separate pouches by reiterating the prohibition on sale of food products having tobacco and nicotine as its ingredients. The court directed authorities like the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to endure the end of sales of all forms of chewable tobacco and nicotine.

A plea in the Supreme Court by senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam, who is amicus curiae in a batch of petitions related to the gutkha ban, pointed out that chewing tobacco manufacturers contended that the regulations restrained them only from selling gutkha, which is raw betel nut mixed with tobacco. So, instead various companies had started selling pan masala and tobacco in separate but often conjoined sachets, instead of the ready mixes.

India’s new family planning mission

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has announced a new scheme to promote family planning called Mission Parivar Vikas. The mission will be targeted at 145 districts in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Assam – states that account for 44% of the country’s population.

India is the second most populous country after China and is set to have the highest population by 2022. India’s population, and therefore health, goal is to redice the Total Fertility Rate or the average number of children per woman to 2.1 by 2025. The Total Fertility Rate in the 145 districts covered t be covered in the new plan is more than or equal to 3.

The announcement of Mission Parivar Vikas comes just days after a study in the Lancet ranked India at 143 out of 188 countries in terms of progress in health. Family planning, as an effort to control population, is one of the United Nation’s health goals under the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals.