Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

G8 Urged to Act on Food Crisis and Health: This Month the Group of Eight (G8) Industrialized Nations Discuss the Growing Global Food Crisis with Its Dire Consequences and Will Be Encouraged to Fulfil Past Commitments, Keep Health on the International Agenda and Strengthen Health Systems

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

G8 Urged to Act on Food Crisis and Health: This Month the Group of Eight (G8) Industrialized Nations Discuss the Growing Global Food Crisis with Its Dire Consequences and Will Be Encouraged to Fulfil Past Commitments, Keep Health on the International Agenda and Strengthen Health Systems

Article excerpt

The global food crisis threatens to reverse hard-won gains in public health in developing countries and is already jeopardizing the health of the most vulnerable people in poor countries, particularly pregnant women, children and the elderly.

"A great deal of hard-won progress is at stake," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in a speech to the United Nations food summit in Rome last month. "The world already faces an estimated 3.5 million deaths from malnutrition each year. Many more will die as a result of this crisis."

G8 leaders gather on the Japanese island of Hokkaido from 7 to 9 July. This year's host, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukudu, who showed Japan's commitment to addressing the food crisis by attending last month's UN food summit in Rome, has put food security high on the G8 agenda. He and his fellow G8 leaders are also scheduled to discuss other health-related issues, including proposals to strengthen health systems.

Strengthening health systems is a top priority for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the rest of the "H8" health organizations--the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the GAVI Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ AIDS (UNAIDS); the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); and the World Bank. In a formal letter sent to the G8 governments on 10 June, the H8 called on the G8 to fulfil past health commitments, keep health on the international agenda and help to strengthen health systems in developing countries.

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"The 2008 G8 summit presents an opportunity to protect recent gains, and address areas which lag behind, such as the failure to reduce the number of maternal deaths, improve nutrition and intensify HIV prevention," the letter said.

Health organizations recalled that the last G8 meeting in Japan, in 2000, had helped to establish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and spurred "real and measurable progress" in health, such as "reductions in child deaths, increased access to treatment for HIV, the reversal of the TB epidemic in many countries, progress towards polio eradication, the profound reduction in measles in Africa, success in controlling neglected tropical diseases, and increasing contraceptive use".

"Much remains to be done. In Hokkaido, it will be important for the G8 to build on what it has started," it said referring to Gleneagles and other commitments, "and support the dramatic scale-up of high-impact interventions to reach the health MDGs by 2015--a crucial step in the global effort to increase human security. Leaders should commit to new, long-term predictable financing, that is linked to results," the letter said.

For world leaders, the global food crisis presents a new health challenge. Soaring prices of basic foodstuffs, such as rice, maize and wheat, in the last couple of years has had a profound effect on people's health and well-being, and there are signs it will exacerbate undernutrition (under-eating) and malnutrition (bad eating) worldwide. In coming months, poorer populations may be forced to switch to cheaper, less nutritional food. Meanwhile, people in countries that are dependent on food imports, particularly in urban areas, are likely to eat fewer meals. …

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