Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Leave no one behind on health care
Health is a fundamental source of happiness for any human being. Any amount of wealth may prove worthless for an ailing individual. Hence, it is sad to note that the International Universal Health Coverage Day passed by on Dec.12 without many people even realising it.
In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a resolution urging countries to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage (UHC) – the proposal that everyone, everywhere should have access to quality, affordable health care - as an essential priority for international development.
The idea is to raise awareness of the need for strong health systems and universal health coverage with multi-stakeholder partners.
A vast section of the world population still lacks coverage for even the most essential health services.
Primary health care plays a vital role in bringing health services closer to people’s homes and communities, thereby improving access. In October, 1,200 delegates from 120 countries gathered in Astana, Kazakhstan, for a Global Conference on Primary Health Care.
They adopted the Declaration of Astana, vowing to strengthen their primary health care systems as an essential step towards UHC.
As World Health Organisation Regional Director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, pointed out at the conference, the Declaration of Astana is a call to step up action, which should empower the world to make primary health care a reality in all our countries.
Active lifestyle is an antidote to health issues and Dubai deserves praise for putting much effort on this front. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, has been actively implementing the vision to make sport a way of life in the emirate.
Dubai has several programmes geared towards motivating individuals and institutions to embrace a physically active lifestyle. The Hamdan Bin Mohammed Order of Merit for Sports Education School is one such initiative that focuses on schools and aims to spread health and happiness among school children through the practice of sports.
The Dubai Fitness Challenge – the flagship fitness movement Sheikh Hamdan launched in 2017, is the world’s only city-wide initiative of its kind that promotes an active lifestyle and long-term wellness and features a varied line-up of fun, social and entertaining fitness activities.
World leaders should take proactive action and work towards making bigger and smarter investments in health. All sectors involved should commit to help move the world closer to UHC by 2030 as envisaged.
Digital push unlocks
key potential of UAE
In a rapidly changing world of technology, countries that lag behind are bound to pay a heavy price. While many nations are just starting to think about utilisation of smart technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), the UAE has been fortunate, thanks to visionary leadership, to have already made rapid strides and lead the digitalisation race in the region.
A report prepared by the Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Campus, a technology hub of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, has stated that the UAE ranks first in the region in terms of enterprise adoption of AI applications with an annual growth rate of 33.5 per cent.
The report quotes PwC’s 2017 forecasts that the contribution of AI to the global economy will increase to $15.7 trillion by 2030, and that AI will contribute $96 billion to (13.6 per cent) to the UAE GDP by 2030.
Incidentally, the UAE ranks first in the Arab world in terms of expected annual growth of AI contribution to the economy at 33.5 per cent.
Perseverance pays and the UAE is reaping the benefits of proactive approach. A glance at the country’s key achievements this year in terms of the overall reinforcement and development of AI applications reveals the depth of the success story.
In January, the Ministry of Health and Community Prevention created a system to manage hospitals that aim to ensure the integration of AI in health facilities, bed management and the "PACE Real-Time Dashboard," as part of the ministry's participation in the Arab Health Conference Exhibition.
Three months later, the country's construction and transport sector declared the start of the implementation of AI in federal road projects, which will reduce project implementation periods by 54 per cent, fuel consumption by 37 per cent, labour dependence by 80 per cent, and the number of equipment by 40 per cent.
On May 11, the UAE adopted 26 mechanisms related to the use of AI in many economic sectors while the University of Dubai signed an agreement with the Roads and Transport Authority to establish a research centre for the roads and transport sector.
To cap it all, in November, a federal law was issued that will enable the UAE Cabinet to grant a temporary licence to implement unregulated but innovative projects based on AI and other advanced technologies, which aims to provide a safe and experimental environment for future technologies.
Smart thinking has certainly paid rich dividends for the UAE.
Pope’s visit will boost
global peace efforts
The UAE is known as a land of peace and tolerance. The UAE model of open-mindedness demonstrates the true image of Islam, which is one of love and brotherhood. Founding Father late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan laid the seeds for such a broadminded approach right at the time of foundation of the nation.
His Holiness Pope Francis’ proposed visit to the UAE in February next year at the invitation of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has created all-round excitement and for right reasons.
Pope Francis has been revered the world over as a symbol of peace and compassion. He has been campaigning relentlessly for harmony among people of various faiths. He has repeatedly made it clear that hatred has no place in a sane society. Pope Francis is seen by many around the world as more progressive than many of his predecessors.
The visit will also be the Pope’s first to a GCC member country and hence it is bound to be historic.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has echoed the feelings of the entire nation by tweeting: “We welcome the news of Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates next February — a visit that will strengthen our ties and understanding of each other, enhance interfaith dialogue and help us to work together to maintain and build peace among the nations of the world.”
With people from all around the globe living and working in the UAE, the country presents a brilliant model of harmony among communities.
In June, Pope Francis commended the efforts made by the UAE to promote tolerance and strengthen inter-faith dialogue and peaceful co-existence between world peoples. He highlighted in this regard the pioneering humanitarian initiatives championed by the UAE to alleviate the suffering of a large number of world people irrespective of colour, culture, ethnicity, race and religion.
As Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, points out, Pope’s visit will establish and support strong foundations of brotherhood and peaceful coexistence, both regionally and globally.
The theme of the Pope’s visit has been aptly titled "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” The visit would certainly go a long way in strengthening global peace efforts and boosting interfaith dialogue.
Climate deal pleasant
news, now time to act
The world can take comfort from the fact that after two weeks of heated negotiations, nearly 200 nations gathered in Katowice have managed to adopt a set of strong guidelines to ensure the implementation of the terms of 2015 Paris Agreement aimed at containing global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
There should be no let-up in follow-up action as the adopted guidelines package, the “rulebook,” is designed to encourage greater climate action ambition and benefit people from all walks of life, especially the most vulnerable.
Financing from developed countries in support of climate action in developing countries has remained a thorny issue and it is good that the document has set a way to decide on new, more ambitious targets from 2025 onwards, from the current commitment to mobilise $100 billion per year as of 2020.
Another notable accomplishment is that the nations have agreed on how to collectively assess the effectiveness of climate action in 2023, and how to monitor and report progress on the development and transfer of technology.
The UAE has rightly called for quick enforcement of the procedures and global standards adopted by the nations.
As Dr Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment and head of the UAE delegation points out, the final meetings confirmed the UAE's statement during the conference that time is no longer with us, and the need for decisive climate action has never been more crucial.
Al Zeyoudi correctly alerted the world that the warning signs are becoming more evident and dramatic – the devastating forest fires, droughts, floods, and hurricanes are now the norm rather than the exception across the globe.
Such climatic catastrophes make it clear for world nations that they have no choice but to intensify their efforts to cut down carbon emissions and expedite climate adaptation measures.
The UAE has implemented robust initiatives on the ground such as the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park and Noor Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest solar power plant that is being built in the UAE capital at a cost of Dhs3.2 billion.
The UAE has also, through its government and semi-government entities, helped deploy renewable energy solutions across the world.
While the UAE stays focused on addressing the climate challenge, other nations need to do their bit too.
The best solution lies in experimenting with models that have proved successful in reducing the effects of climate change, across several sectors.
Road safety should
be global priority
A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates road traffic deaths continue to rise, with an annual 1.35 million fatalities, and this is a matter of huge concern.
Also worrisome is the trend wherein road traffic injuries are the leading killer of children and young people aged 5-29 years, as per the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018.
These deaths are an unacceptable price to pay for mobility, as WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, points out. There is no excuse for inaction especially because this is a problem with proven solutions.
It should be noted that of the total number of road traffic deaths, 90 per cent occur in low and -middle-income countries. The risk of a road traffic death remains three times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries. The rates are highest in Africa (26.6 per 100 000 population) and lowest in Europe (9.3 per 100 000 population).
Globally, pedestrians and cyclists need to take extra care as they account for 26% of all road traffic deaths. Motorcycle riders and passengers also account for 28% of all road traffic deaths.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals seek to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents and to provide access to safe, affordable and sustainable transport systems as well as improve road safety for all. Efforts should be intensified to achieve those goals.
Fortunately, there is some scope for consolation. Despite the increase in the overall number of deaths, the rate of death compared to the growing number of people and cars in the world has stabilised in recent years. In the last report, based on data from 2013, the number of road traffic deaths was estimated at 1.25 million annually.
The implication is that existing road safety efforts in some middle and high-income countries have mitigated the situation. This is largely due to better legislation around key risks, including speeding, drinking and driving, besides others.
Vehicle safety regulations should ensure that all new motor vehicles meet applicable minimum regulations for the protection of occupants and other road users, with seat belts, airbags and active safety systems fitted as standard equipment.
Road safety has not been receiving the attention it deserves. There is a need for greater efforts to reduce road traffic deaths worldwide. Stakeholders should step up efforts to achieve global road safety targets.