The UN Can’t Even Promote Health

When people ask if the United Nations can serve any useful role, I find myself mumbling that maybe it can do some good on issues with cross-border impact, such as aiding refugees and improving health care. However, I always add, the record has not been good even there.

Now even the UN is admitting that it is hard to demonstrate that it has done any good on health care despite spending billions of dollars collected largely from American and other Western taxpayers.

Reports the Associated Press:

In the last two decades, the world has spent more than $20 billion trying to save people from death and disease in poor countries.

UPDATE: The AP has made a correction to their original story that reported the UN had spent $20 billion on health care programs. They meant to say nearly $200 billion:

LONDON (AP) — In the last two decades, the world has spent more than $196 billion trying to save people from death and disease in poor countries.

But just what the world’s gotten for its money isn’t clear, according to two studies published Friday in the medical journal Lancet.

Millions of people are now protected against diseases like yellow fever, sleeping under anti-malaria bed nets and taking AIDS drugs. Much beyond that, it’s tough to gauge the effectiveness of pricey programs led by the United Nations and its partners, and in some cases, big spending may even be counterproductive, the studies say.

I’m thinking of changing my answer the next time I’m asked if the UN has any positive roles to a simple and emphatic “no.”