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Governments need to fund research to foster equity in global health, according to ministers at the World Health Organisation's Mexico Summit on Health Research, held last week. The call puts the onus of strengthening health systems and initiating partnerships on national governments.

The summit — which drew representatives of 58 health ministries — was intended to build a global agenda for health research, linked to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Although the draft agenda proposed that governments in developing countries should invest at least two per cent of their national health budget on health research, no concrete funding commitments came out of the meeting.

The ministers agreed on a ten-point statement calling for action mainly from national governments, but also from the international research community and funders of health research.

The statement highlighted the need for research to reduce inequity in healthcare provision, to strengthen health systems and to improve access to health information.

But the statement is not nearly practical enough says the British Medical Journal's acting editor Kamran Abbasi. In an editorial in this week's issue of the journal, he argues that by failing to involve the poor or draw up an adequate agenda for action, the summit is a mixed victory. This was a sentiment echoed by some delegates who were concerned that ministers came up with few concrete action plans for the period leading up to the next summit in 2008.

Abbasi says political expediency resulted in only a handful of firm action points arising from the meeting. Having no representation from the world's poor in the group that drafted the agenda agreed, was a folly, he says. And he questions the need to link every health initiative to the MDGs, instead of identifying proven but underused approaches that relate to them.

Abbasi adds, however, that the meeting should not be viewed as a failure, because it revealed considerable will on the part of both ministers and advocates.

The ministers' statement calling for the action that Abbasi says is so desperately needed will be put forward for agreement by member states at the WHO's World Health Assembly next year.

Link to the Mexico Agenda on Health Research 

Link to full editorial by Kamran Abbasi in the British Medical Journal

Reference: British Medical Journal 329, 1249 (2004)

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