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Health: Introduction

Healthcare continues to pose a major challenge for developing countries. The successes of individual health programmes remain overshadowed by the problems these nations face in the 21st century.

Furthermore, as the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) recognise, health is inextricably linked with development — a failing economy cannot provide adequate healthcare, and a sick population, unable to work productively, cannot boost the economy.

Developing nations have always had to contend with infectious diseases. HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis continue to ravage vast areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Additionally, newer deadly threats, such as SARS and bird flu, are emerging. An increasingly globalised world makes it harder than ever to contain these diseases, and collaboration between countries in research, monitoring and surveillance is crucial.

Some countries — Brazil and India, for example — are becoming more developed, and better able to deal with infectious diseases. But richer developing countries also have to contend with growing rates of chronic, non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

To deal with these burdens, drug development and alternative treatments are required, as well as measures to ensure that people in need have access to medicines and good standards of care.

In developing countries, poor diagnostics and counterfeit drugs can mean that people are given drugs they don't need, or are not advised on how to take the drugs properly. This fuels drug resistance, which needs urgent attention to ensure that vital drugs are not rendered forever useless.

Tackling both infectious and non-infectious disease requires a robust health system, which many poor countries lack. Healthcare systems need adequate and sustained government funding, skilled workers, and sometimes, technical knowledge and assistance from more developed countries.

Local knowledge and customs, traditional healers and techniques, can also play a large part in dealing with diseases.

Scientific research has an integral role in healthcare. Developing countries need to build the capacity to develop research agendas and tailor them to their nation's needs. Only about ten per cent of the world's resources for health research are used to tackle the health problems of the world's poor, accounting for about 90 per cent of global disease. Also, many countries need better-defined research ethics guidelines to determine how trials can be undertaken without exploiting local populations.

These issues are complex, and interweave with other problems in science, health and development. This gateway will offer news, features, and informed opinion, aimed at educators, scientists, doctors, healthcare providers, policymakers and the general public in developing countries. It focuses on the urgent health challenges outlined in the MDGs but also throws a spotlight on issues that still get far too little global attention — such as the need for research into neglected diseases like schistosomiasis or leishmaniasis.

By providing up-to-date and accurate information about healthcare issues we seek to help developing countries use scientific knowledge and understanding for the improvement of their population's health, and thus their development and well being.

The merits of this information gateway depend on its usefulness to our readers, so we welcome feedback on how to improve its content.