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WHO: Millions Can Be Saved From Disease With Low-Cost Treatment - 2002-01-31

Millions of people die each year from infectious diseases, but a report says many of these lives could be saved, if people had access to low-cost methods of treatment that are available now.

The report, issued Thursday by the World Health Organization, is part of a new WHO campaign to reduce deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis kill almost six million people each year. The World Health Organization initiative is intended to reduce the number of deaths by showing people how to use effective and low-cost methods of treatment.

WHO Executive Director for Communicable Diseases David Heymann said, five years ago, health agencies thought the only way to sustain health development was by preventing disease, but he says things are different now.

"Today, all that has changed," explained Mr. Heymann. "The paradigm now includes prevention and treatment, using drugs. And, that is a very important shift in thinking, because what it tells us is that, by a short increased access to drugs, people can be prevented from dying, can improve their health and can then pull themselves out of poverty."

The WHO report cites some success stories. For example, it shows Peru cut tuberculosis cases in half, simply by increasing treatment aimed at tuberculosis control; Vietnam reduced malaria deaths by 97 percent by using insecticide treated bed-nets; and Uganda decreased HIV by 50 percent in pregnant women and children by giving mothers an anti-AIDS drug.

The WHO says one of the keys to success in fighting these diseases is the development of partnerships among governments, private aid agencies, and pharmaceutical companies.

A WHO health strategist, Elil Renganathan, stresses that private organizations can perform life-saving services. "For example, in Azerbaijan, ENI, which is a petroleum exploitation company, has been working very closely with the government and the community on a roll-back malaria project, which is based on early diagnosis and rapid treatment," he said. "And in that period of three years, the disease burden has been reduced by 50 percent."

The World Health Organization says investing in health in developing countries not only could save millions of lives, it also could save billions of dollars that would otherwise have to be spent on caring for people.

The WHO says by spending $66 billion a year, as many as eight million lives could be saved by 2015.