WHO CALLS FOR A MASSIVE EFFORT
AGAINST DISEASES OF POVERTY
world needs to unite for a massive effort against diseases of poverty, said Dr Gro Harlem
Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization here Tuesday at a meeting of
organizations active in the fight against these diseases world-wide.
"A few main diseases, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and
childhood killers, plus reproductive health conditions, are directly biting into the
economic growth of poor countries. There is increasing recognition of the sheer difficulty
faced by developing nations as they seek to counter these health threats," Dr
She said that a number of effective health interventions that
drastically reduce mortality of main killers exist. "Quite simply, if we can take
these interventions to scaleand by that I mean to a global scalewe have in our
hands a concrete, result-oriented, and measurable way of starting to reduce poverty,"
she said. This process, she said, has been given the working title:
"Massive Effort against Diseases that Cause or Perpetuate Poverty."
Dr Brundtland spoke at the opening of an advocacy forum aimed at
building popular support for this new global movement. "The Massive Effort is a
process, a road to follow, a framework for thinking and a set of values that underpin it
all," Dr Brundtland said.
The forum is attended by 200 experts on health, advocacy, and public
relations from 70 countries, representing non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups
and private companies.
The forum follows recent announcements by the G8 nations that targets
have been set to reduce the burden of malaria and tuberculosis by 50% within 10 years and
to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS by 25% within the same time period. The forum also comes
after the creation of a new policy framework by the European Commission aimed at focusing
the European Union's aid efforts on reaching these targets.
Dr Brundtland said that although the world long had known that illness
and poverty are closely linked, new data over the past few years have shown a much more
devastating economic impact on developing country economies by a few infectious diseases.
Analysis of data from thirty-one African countries during the period
1980 to 1995 showed that the annual loss of economic growth due to malaria has been as
high as 1.3% per year, and if this loss had been compounded for 15 years the GNP level
would have been reduced by nearly 20% during that time.
When HIV prevalence reaches 8% of the populationas is the case in
at least 21 African countriesper capita growth is reduced by 0.4 percentage points
each year. Given that annual per capita growth in Africa for the past three years has
averaged 1.2%, this is a significant reduction. Similar analysis can, or is, being done on
the other diseases and conditions.
The fight against these diseases will demand high investments in
health. Current estimates suggest that an additional US $1 billion dollars will be
required annually to combat malaria effectively. But the annual pay-off from this
investment could be a
US $12 billion boost to the combined GDP of countries in sub-Saharan
Africa. The situation with tuberculosis is similar. Another one billion dollars annually
spent on drugslinked to work on health systemscould result in a 50% drop in
mortality over the next five years. For HIV/AIDS, a greater amount of funding is
necessary. Sums in the order of US $2.5 billion dollars annually are needed for prevention
alone. Add the cost of care, and the figures rise dramatically.
These are long-term investments. Dr Brundtland believes that in order
to maintain this political commitment, a popular movement is needed to keep up the
pressure on decision makers; that would stimulate people in all countries to find their
own best ways of carrying forward the Massive Effort.
"It must be a movement that is based on a shared and strong set of
values. It must be a movement that is oriented towards actionwith measurable, clear
goals and outcomes," said Dr Brundtland. "And it must be a movement that
celebrates plurality and new ideas."
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