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, tuberculosis 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 development 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, tuberculosis 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
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
"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 generic alternatives.
The message put across on Thursday echoed a report by
the WHO's Commission on Macroeconomics and Health last
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.