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[BEIJING] A lack of information on the health of poor people is impeding research and access to medical interventions, warns a top United Nations health official.

Of the world's 6.5 billion people, "we do not have accurate information on more than four billion," said Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, yesterday (29 October) at the opening of Forum 11, the annual meeting of the Global Forum for Health Research in Beijing, China.

According to Chan, we have accurate data on the number of births and deaths and causes of deaths of less than a third of the world's population — so called 'vital statistics'.

This has meant that research and medical interventions for poor populations has been based on data obtained from wealthier people living in different conditions.

Given this poor knowledge, she said, Millennium Development Goals directly related to health "are the least likely to be met".

Chan appealed for more research into health systems for calculating health needs and distributing resources.

Chen Zhu, China's minister of health, told the forum, "Developed countries should help the developing world build up its manpower to tackle the problem."

Yesterday, the Health Metrics Network, a global partnership hosted by the WHO, launched a drive to count all births and deaths through civil registration.

Stephan Matlin, executive director of the Global Forum for Health, emphasised at a press conference that the profile of global health is changing and more information is needed to deal with this.

The oft stated '10/90 gap' — which describes the inequitable situation of only 10 per cent of global research funding being spent on diseases that affect 90 per cent of the world's population — is not an adequate description of the situation, he said.

In the past decade, Matlin said, with the exception of in Africa, the main cause of death in developing countries has been an inequality of access to treatment for the same diseases that occur in rich countries, not communicable disease.