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WHO: Financial Crisis Hits Health of Poor


Health ministers from around the world are urging donor countries and financial institutions to continue supporting the health needs of poor countries, especially during this period of financial turmoil. The ministers made their plea at the end of a high-level consultation sponsored by the World Health Organization to discuss how the financial crisis ifs affecting global health.

On the positive side, the World Health Organization says very few government health ministries have indicated they will reduce their health budgets. And, the organization says financial institutions such as the World Bank confirm they will keep up their level of assistance for poor countries.

Nevertheless, there is heightened concern that the depth of the global financial crisis could erode the promises of monetary support. Therefore, representatives attending the WHO meeting say health ministries in countries with limited funds must set their priorities.

Sri Lanka Minister of Healthcare and Nutrition Nimal Sirpala de Silva says he believes many countries get their priorities wrong. "In most of the countries, our experience is we are investing so much of money in the curative sector - building hospitals and treatment, etc. but mostly neglecting the public health aspect, especially the life-style behaviors. To change the life-style behavior of many people in the world, with regard to HIV and non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular diseases, etc. where you need more preventive care. The money must be diverted more to the preventive care, so that you can mitigate this particular situation."

The economic forecast for this year is bleak. Global trade is expected to decline for the first time in 30 years. Foreign direct investment is predicted to drop, as well as remittances from foreign workers to their home countries.

And, this, says Andrew Steer of the British Department for International Development, will affect incomes and tax revenues in developing countries. "This comes on the back of last year when because of the food price increase and the energy price increase, you already have the poor in a rather weakened state. So, today, it is likely that 40 million to 50 million children have already been permanently injured because of food price increases last year. So, their nutritional levels have declined, which will affect their cognitive ability and so on."

Dr. Steer says donor governments must honor their promises to maintain or raise official development assistance to developing countries, as must financial institutions.

A representative from the World Bank says his organization is planning to double health loans to three-billion dollars, a substantial increase over the past two to three years. Of that, he says Sub-Saharan Africa will get about 800-million dollars and South Asia 650-million dollars.

The World Health Organization notes significant progress has been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. For example, it says child mortality has been cut in many poor countries and gains have been made in the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

But it warns the global financial crisis put these achievements at risk and will jeopardize progress on the challenges that remain.

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