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Developing Countries Facing Wider Range of Health Problems

Officials with the Global Forum for Health Research say developing countries face a widening range of health problems due to changes in lifestyle. The officials say developing countries need to improve access to health care for the poor to prevent deaths from non-communicable diseases. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

The head of the Global Forum for Health Research, Stephen Matlin, says the health problems that developing countries face have changed enormously in the past 10 years.

He says in the past infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis caused the most health problems. Now, developing nations are seeing massive growth in non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and mental illness.

"In fact, in many developing countries, including China and India, two of the most populous countries in the world, these are now the main sources of illness and death in the population," said Matlin.

Matlin was speaking at the beginning of the health forum's annual meeting, being held this week in Beijing.

He said the only exception to the trend was in Africa where malaria and TB are still major killers and are becoming more resistant to the drugs used to fight them.

Matlin says non-communicable diseases are caused mainly by changes in lifestyle and environment as diets have become less healthy and the rural poor have moved into crowded and polluted cities. And the poor still have inadequate access to medical care.

He says although funding for health research worldwide has grown dramatically in the past 20 years, only a fraction is spent on fighting disease in poor nations.

Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu told the forum that developing countries like China are doing their best but need international support.

"Developed countries should provide necessary technological and financial assistance to the developing countries, conduct more research on public health problems of developing countries, and improve their public health service capacity," said Chen.

More than 800 participants from 80 nations are taking part in the forum's discussions, which are aimed at bringing equitable health care for the world's poor.