Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Global Forum Highlights Deficits in Disease and Gender Research

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Global Forum Highlights Deficits in Disease and Gender Research

Article excerpt

Public health officials, scientists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector representatives from over 100 countries gathered on 2-5 December 2003 at the annual conference of the Global Forum for Health Research, a Geneva-based NGO which lobbies to raise awareness about the fact that less than 10% of health research funds are spent on 90% of the world's health problems. The Forum looked at the contribution of health research to economic investment, poverty, gender, globalization, violence and injuries and noncommunicable diseases.

Only a tenth of the US$ 73 billion spent on health research last year went towards developing vaccines, medicines or new treatment for "diseases of the poor"--like malaria and tuberculosis, said conference organizers. Participants in the conference heard that although health research was a major factor in poverty reduction it was often overlooked by governments and other donors.

Nancy Birdsall, President of the Washington-based Center for Global Development, said that most of the 13 million deaths from infectious diseases each year can be prevented with known, relatively inexpensive treatments. "What is striking ... is that the full benefits of existing technologies are far from being fully realized," Birdsall told the conference.

Carlos Morel, Director of the joint WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), used historical examples to illustrate the importance of continued investment in health research. Polio control was transformed by the discovery of an effective vaccine which relegated the "iron lung" machine to little more than a museum piece, he said. He also stated that the health sector often fails to invest in further research once a promising tool is discovered. Malaria research was neglected once insecticide appeared to be an effective tool for disease control--so when resistant mosquitoes appeared, no one was prepared, he said. Morel pointed out that it was a very different story in the defence sector: even though it possesses highly sophisticated and effective weapons, massive investment in research continues.

Louis Currat, the former World Bank economist and outgoing Executive Secretary of the Global Forum described the imbalance in health research funding as understandable since the private sector--which accounts for 42% of global spending on health research--responds to market forces while public health officials tend to focus on national health. …

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