Increased Investment in Global Health Could Provide ‘Essential’ Treatment for AIDS, TB in Developing Countries, WHO Report Says
Eight million lives could be saved and $186 billion in world income now lost to illness could be recovered each year if the world's richest nations donated $101 billion annually for medical research and treatments for infectious diseases like HIV, malaria and tuberculosis in the developing world, according to a report released yesterday by the World Health Organization, the New York Times reports. A WHO committee headed by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Sachs reached this conclusion after analyzing the correlation between public health and economic development and how an influx of foreign aid, coupled with affected governments' own budgets, could improve health worldwide (Altman, New York Times, 12/21). The report, titled "Macroeconomics and Health: Investing in Health for Economic Development," is based on almost 90 studies and was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 12/21). Health spending in the developing world must rise to $38 per person per year by 2015 if affected nations are to make "essential health interventions" for AIDS, malaria, TB and childhood diseases, the report concludes. Currently, the world's 60 poorest countries spend only about $13 per person annually on health care. The increased funds would also provide immunizations, prenatal care and other preventive services.
According to the report, HIV prevention programs reach 10% to 20% of people in developing nations, while 6% to 10% of HIV-positive people are receiving treatment for opportunistic infections and less than 1% are receiving antiretroviral treatment (Brown, Washington Post, 12/21). Earning potential lost to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa amounted to about 17% of the region's gross domestic product in 1999. HIV/AIDS has hit the developing world, which was making health and economic gains prior to the onset of the pandemic, especially hard by reducing life expectancies and draining resources. The report calls on pharmaceutical companies to continue to lower prices for AIDS drugs and to extend those discounts to other "essential medicines." The report also says that poor nations should be allowed to import cheaper generic versions of the drugs as a "last resort" and calls for increased research into new treatments.
The report estimates that about $66 billion in new funds is needed annually to improve international health. The report suggests that industrialized nations donate about $38 billion of that total and that developing countries provide $28 billion a year by devoting an additional 2% of their GDP to health and nutrition programs (Wall Street Journal, 12/21). Sachs said he would like to see the United States contribute about $10 billion a year to the effort. A commitment of that size would double U.S. foreign aid to 1% of the federal budget. The report's suggestions will likely face opposition in Congress, where "foreign aid has many enemies ... and health aid, especially, is fraught with controversy," the Times reports (New York Times, 12/21). However, health activists yesterday called on officials to heed the report. "We have long had the know-how and technology necessary to reduce the tragic and unnecessary deaths of tens of millions of people each year in the developing world," Dr. Nils Daulaire, president and CEO of the Global Health Council, said, adding that the world's richest nations "must act now" (GHC release, 12/20).