Health ministers briefed on best health buys in disease control

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WHO/PAHO release

Washington, September 27, 2006 (PAHO) -- Health ministers from the Americas at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Directing Council were briefed today on the Disease Control Priorities project, which outlines the best health investments to reduce the burden of disease in developing countries.

Dr. George Alleyne, PAHO's former Director and an editor of the project, said "In far too many countries, unnecessary poor health conditions persist" and evidence shows there are a number of cost-effective interventions that can improve health conditions.

The project's recommendations on the "best health buys" for developing countries are interventions suggested by scientists and experts to deal with issues such as tobacco use, cardiovascular disease, maternal and newborn mortality, and the reduction of infectious diseases, such as TB, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.

The project and its new publication by the World Bank, "Priorities in Health," Dr. Alleyne said, "helps countries choose the best health investments, or 'health buys,' that are highly cost-effective in many settings."

"Health care is one of the most effective means of fighting poverty," said Dr. Julio Frenk, Mexico's minister of health and a presenter at the briefing. "DCP2 is an enviable tool for this stewardship role that countries have to perform while reforming health systems with increased efficiency."

In the joint briefing with Dr. Frenk, who outlined the progress achieved in Mexico using the information gleaned from the project, and Philip Musgrove, a health economist at the World Bank and one of the editors of the publications, Dr. Alleyne said the best health buys are:

  1. Vaccinate children against major childhood killer, including measles, polio, tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria.
  2. Monitor children's health to prevent or, if necessary, treat childhood pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.
  3. Tax tobacco products to increase consumers' costs by at least one one-third, to curb smoking and reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease.
  4. Attack the spread of HIV through a coordinated approach that includes: promoting 100 % condom use among populations at risk; treating other sexually transmitted infections; providing antiretroviral medications, especially for pregnant women; and offering voluntary HIV counseling and testing.
  5. Give children and pregnant women essential nutrients, including Vitamin A iron and iodine, to prevent maternal anemia, infant deaths and long-term health problems.
  6. Provide insecticide-treated bed nets in malaria-endemic areas to drastically reduce malaria.
  7. Enforce traffic regulations and install speed bumps at dangerous intersections to reduce traffic-related injuries.
  8. Treat TB patients with short-course chemotherapy to cure infected people and prevent new infections.
  9. Teach mothers and train birth attendants to keep newborns warm and clean to reduce illness and death.
  10. Promote use of aspiring and other inexpensive drugs to treat and prevent heart attack and stroke.

The "best buys" are part of a trio of publications: Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, 2nd edition; Priorities in Health; and Global Burden of Disease and Risk Factors, which present the latest scientific research on a broad array of diseases and health conditions and recommendations for strengthening developing-country health systems. The books are designed as resources for policymakers, health program managers, and donors.

The project shows that only 12 percent of global health spending occurs in low- and middle-income countries, which account for 92 percent of the global burden of disease.

Dr. Alleyne recalled that an earlier publication in 1993 on global disease burdens was one of the factors "that convinced Bill Gates to invest his billions in the cause of improving human health."

The briefing session was held during the annual PAHO Directing Council meeting, in which ministers of health from throughout the Americas discuss health policy for the region. The agenda and all the documents for the Directing Council are on the PAHO web at http://www.paho.org/english/gov/cd/cd47index-e.htm.

PAHO, established in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and living standards of their peoples. It is also the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

For more information, contact Daniel Epstein, PAHO Public Information, (202) 974-3459, cell 202 316 5679. epsteind@paho.org or see www.paho.org.

For the complete book and details on the Disease Control Priorities Project, see the website at www.dcp2.org.

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