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Although global spending on health research has risen by 20 per cent, not enough is being channeled to tackle health issues in the developing world, according to a report by the Global Forum for Health Research.

This conclusion comes despite a growing awareness of the significance of health research, says Stephen Matlin, director of the forum. He announced the report's release ahead of the forum's annual meeting in Cairo, Egypt, which begins next week (29 October).

The report states that global spending on health research rose sharply from US$105.9 billion to US$125.8 billion per year between 2001 and 2003.

Steven Koch, a health economist based in South Africa, suggested that this increase may be linked to concerns in industrialised countries about rapidly ageing or obese populations, or due to multinational pharmaceutical companies facing patent expiry problems in the near future.

He told SciDev.Net that the real issue was how much money was being spent within a developing country — and spent effectively — rather than knowing how much health research investment is underway worldwide, and whether it comes from a public or a private source.

Yet data on health research spending are hard to obtain, and are often only available with a delay of 2-3 years.

"My experience of the public health system here in South Africa is that it battles to spend about half of its resources efficiently," says Koch, adding that misallocation and mismanagement were serious issues.

Meanwhile Matlin highlighted the importance of countries creating the necessary legal and policy framework "to ensure that innovation works to benefit the health of needy populations rather than producing only expensive products for rich markets."

The Global Forum for Health Research was founded in 1998 to focus on research efforts for the often-overlooked health problems of the poor.