Less should be spent on biotechnology and more on finding the best ways to deliver proven medical treatment in the developing world. So say the authors of a new report issued by the World Health Organization calling for research to bridge the "know-how" gap between rich and poor nations.
Since the rush to develop vaccines against HIV and malaria, biotechnology has been favored over other priorities in the scientific community. High tech research has received the vast majority of grant money amid promises that new and better drugs could eliminate infectious diseases worldwide.
But international health policy analysts say the focus on biomedicine has taken resources away from where they are really needed, at the provider level.
A new report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), entitled "Knowledge for Better Health," calls for a reassessment of how health dollars are spent in the developing world. It's author, Tikki Pang, says research dollars should be earmarked to figure out ways to improve health delivery in some of the world's poorest nations.
"You know, we can sequence the human genome, and yet we still have huge problems in poor countries with malaria, with tuberculosis, with HIV AIDS, with childhood infections, with the whole range of things," he said.
Many of the health problems of children are treatable with existing therapies, according to pediatrician Michael English.
In a study published recently in the journal The Lancet, Dr. English reports from Kenya on the severe lack of basic medical interventions, such as adequate nutrition to feed premature infants and malnourished children and antibiotics to treat routine infections. He says seven to 10 illnesses cause 90 percent of childhood conditions that could be cured if there were enough supplies to go around.
At present, Dr. English says the system focuses on single diseases to the exclusion of ailments that are at least as important.
"You know, there's a danger in trying to provide treatment for HIV/AIDS, which includes antiretrovirals, which require a degree of technological support for them to be implemented properly," said Dr. English So, a hospital may be developed to the extent that it could even do a CD4 count whereas the quality of it's malaria microscopy, which is a test which costs a few cents, is still very badly lacking."
The CD4 count Dr. English mentions measures the level of immune system warrior cells that are destroyed by the AIDS virus.
The WHO study comes one week before a meeting of 30 health ministers in Mexico City to discuss the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations. Those goals include improving health by extending the benefits of biomedicine to the developing world. But some observers think the delegates should approve a resolution to strengthen health care delivery in poor nations.