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China to study links between Sustainable Development and Investment in Health

Chinese authorities will be presented with the findings of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Commission on Macroeconomics and Health (CMH) and its implications for Chinese economic and social reforms. The Commission has found that investments in health contribute strongly to economic growth and equitable development.

WHO and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Chair of the Commission, today presented the CMH report to the Chinese government at a seminar in Beijing. The seminar was jointly hosted by the State Development Planning Commission, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Health and WHO. The final report of the Commission's findings has been translated into Chinese.

In 1999, Dr Sachs was invited by WHO Director-General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland to chair a commission of 18 leading economists and senior public health experts. The Commissioners worked for two years to produce their Report. It was supported by six expert working groups producing nearly 200 studies. The Report argues that the links between health, poverty reduction and economic growth are much more powerful than has been generally understood. The Commissioners challenge the traditional argument that health will automatically improve as a result of economic growth. Their Report shows that the opposite is true: improved health is a critical requirement for economic development in poor countries.

One of the key recommendations of the Commission is that the world’s low-and middle-income nations, in partnership with high-income countries, should scale up access to essential health services. The focus should be on specific measures to control the deadliest and most debilitating diseases.

Globally, increased health investments of US$66 billion per year above current spending will, by 2010, save at least 8 million lives a year and generate at least US$ 360 billion annually in additional economic growth by 2015-2020.

China has currently one-fifth of the world’s population and one-seventh of the world’s disease burden, measured in years of healthy life lost.

Today's seminar is the beginning of a process to adapt the CMH's findings to a Chinese reality. The impact would be greatest if investments prioritize cost effective interventions for major health risks in China. These include reducing tobacco use, attention to the factors causing cardiovascular disease, cancers and other non-communicable diseases and promoting healthier lifestyles. A major effort is also needed to reduce the risks of communicable diseases - particularly HIV/AIDS - and improving tuberculosis treatment.

China has made great strides in reducing poverty, improving living standards and health indicators, and spurring economic growth over the past 20 years. However, disparities in health service coverage - and people's health status - are substantial, both between urban and rural areas, and between coastal and inland provinces. Demands on poor people for out-of-pocket expenditure on health care is a barrier to treatment for millions. The result is often increased poverty or - if they are unable to pay - greatly increased risk of disability and death.

A special effort will be needed to ensure that poor people can access close-to-client health services - especially in areas where health systems performance and economic development are well behind the average.

China's government seeks to promote universal national standards for public health, yet responsibility for health care is to a large extent decentralized to provincial and local governments. In addition, market forces are influencing the design and operation of different levels of local health systems. Work is needed to define the incentives and mechanisms which will best promote public health and equity in health outcomes.

National Macroeconomic and Health activities are ongoing in Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Maldives, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Twelve more countries are planning CMH follow-up activities in the near future.

Quotations: “China is obviously central to the global interplay between health, poverty and development which the CMH report outlines," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "WHO hopes that the CMH report will clarify the role of health in China’s development and contribute to achieving a more equitable health system. WHO is committed to working with the Government to making these objectives a reality.”

“The report of the CMH shows that the better health of people is key to reducing their levels of poverty, and to the success of all efforts for economic and social development," said Dr Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in the United States and Chair of the CMH. "Investments in health - if properly directed - can yield extraordinary results in terms of lives saved and increased economic productivity.”

“The CMH process and the follow-up initiatives in numerous countries show how the partnership of Columbia University, the Gates Foundation and WHO is helping national governments, to take forward new thinking and action," said Dr David Nabarro, Executive Director for Sustainable Development at WHO Headquarters in Geneva. "Governments, as well as academics, civil society and private groups are now working on how health interventions can be used to secure the future safety and prosperity of all the people on our planet.”

For more information contact:

Mr Gregory Hartl
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 4458
Mobile phone: +41 (79) 203 6715

Dr Agnès Leotsakos
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 2567