Health agencies outline ‘best buys’ for poor nations

Raising taxes on tobacco could save millions of lives, say the books Copyright: MorgueFile

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[BEIJING] International aid agencies have outlined how developing countries can maximise public health benefits with limited resources.

The advice appears in three books launched yesterday (3 April) in Beijing by the US-based Disease Control Priorities Project. 

The books describe the current and future state of global health, and predict that in the coming decades a billion people in developing nations will die from preventable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and cardiovascular disease.

They suggest some ‘best health buys’ — proven, cost-effective steps developing countries can take to improve health.

Imposing a 33 per cent tax on tobacco, for example, could extend the lives of up to 65 million people in developing nations who smoked in 2000.

Meanwhile, a combination of aspirin and other cheap drugs could cut deaths from cardiovascular diseases by at least 25 per cent. Such diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide and account for 27 per cent of deaths in developing nations.

To tackle HIV/AIDS, the books recommend targeting high risk groups such as sex workers and injecting drug users, by promoting 100 per cent condom use, and providing anti-retroviral drugs and breast milk substitutes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The books are intended as resources for policymakers, donors, and health programme managers and are freely available online.

Jean-Louis Sarbib, senior vice president of the World Bank’s Human Development Network says that by promoting evidence-based decision making, the books would help developing nations “make the most efficient use of scarce healthcare workers and budgets to better serve the poor and other vulnerable groups”.

Nearly 500 scientists, health economists, public health practitioners, and other specialists from around the world contributed to the books.

But Chen Zhu, vice-president of Chinese Academy of Sciences, says that although the advice is welcome, more people from developing countries should have been involved in researching and editing the books.

The three books — Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, Priorities in Health and Global Burden of Disease and Risk Factors — were largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and are available online at: http://www.dcp2.org/page/main/ViewPublications.html.

The Disease Control Priorities Project is supported by the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the US National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center.