Agence France Presse
31 January 2002

WHO Signals Shift in Approach to Infectious Diseases

Geneva - The World Health Organisation on Thursday said it will put a greater emphasis on treatment and not just prevention of major infectious diseases.

In its latest report, "Scaling up the response to infectious diseases," the WHO also urged governments to tap private resources in combating such illnesses as HIV/AIDS, tubercu
losis and malaria.

"What this report shows is that today as opposed to five years ago the paradigm for the control of infectious diseases is not only prevention," David Heymann, executive director of the WHO's communicable diseases' section told journalists. "That's a very important shift in thinking because what it tells us is that by a short but increased access to drugs, people can be prevented from dying, can improve their health, and can pull themselves out of poverty," he said.

Heymann pointed out that most health policies pursued by deve
lopment and aid agencies five years ago were geared towards vaccines and preventive measures, but not towards drugs.

"This report is a road map as to how countries and the international community can scale up successful interventions against infectious diseases in particular AIDS, tubercu
losis and malaria".

Among the examples cited in the report,
Peru is credited with cutting its tuberculosis caseload in half through carefully applying a multi-drug treatment through the 1990s.

It says that
Vietnam reduced malaria deaths by 97 percent between 1992 and 1997 by providing free insecticide-treated mosquito nets as well as high quality anti-malarial drugs.

WHO also reiterated its support for private-public partnerships in providing health services, not only involving pharmaceutical companies but also banks and companies with substantial investment in areas affected by diseases, as well as civil society groups.

"This is clearly the WHO saying that governments must be good stewards of health care," Heymann said.

"They must use their government health systems to the maximum and they must be strengthened to the maximum, but if we're to do this job in the next 15 years those government health systems must be diversified," he added.

Examples noted in the report range from Italian oil company ENI funding for a malaria control programme in Azerbaijan to the role played by a
local non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Bangladesh in providing health care.

"Its capacity and efficiency have often exceeded that of government," the WHO report said of the NGO, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

The report also backed the Brazilian government's efforts to force down the price of anti-AIDS drugs charged by pharmaceutical companies through the production of gen
eric alternatives.

The message put across on Thursday echoed a report by the WHO's Commission on Macroeconomics and Health last December.

It outlined how 66 billion dollars worth of health interventions in poor countries could save about eight million lives a year and generate economic benefits of 360 billion dollars (420 billion euros) a year.

The new report is due to be presented to the meeting of political and economic leaders at the World Economic Forum in
New York on Saturday.

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