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The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has promised to focus the organisation’s activities on efforts to more than double current investments in health in developing countries in the next few years.

The move was announced by Gro Harlem Brundtland at the opening of a meeting of WHO’s executive board in Geneva on Monday (14 January). It is in line with recommendations made in the final report of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, which was published two weeks ago.

In her speech to the board, Brundtland described the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which opens in Johannesburg at the end of August, as a “major milestone in the work towards a world where we all can live in safety and with dignity, without undermining future generations’ ability to do the same”.

She promised that in the months leading up to the summit, WHO will stress the central role of health in the development process and the linkages between health and poverty reduction. “As health takes on a more central role (in development), the expectations for the developing countries to prioritise health will be growing,” Brundtland said.

The director-general also said that she would advise the board to accept the recommendations of an expert committee to retain stocks of the smallpox virus for continued research into vaccines and treatment.

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