UN poverty goals on health out of reach, WHO says

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BEIJING, Oct 30 (Reuters) The world is likely to fail to meet the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals related to health, the head of the World Health Organisation said yesterday at a global forum on health research for poor nations.

A rise in funding for research into communicable diseases has not been matched by the power of health systems to deliver, in part because of the failure of governments to invest in the sector, said Margaret Chan.

''We are at the mid-point in the countdown to 2015 ... We have to face the reality. Of all the goals, those directly related to health care are the least likely to be met,'' Chan told the opening of a conference of the Global Forum for Health Research.

The Millennium Development Goals are a series of social and economic targets formulated by the United Nations that aim to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

Globally, about 125 billion dollars a year is being spent on health research, a four-fold increase over the past 20 years, said Stephen Matlin, the forum's executive director.

''In spite of that increase, a relatively small fraction of the total is devoted to health problems of the poor and to people living in developing countries,'' he told a news conference.

Meeting the needs of populations in developing countries was also becoming more complicated.

In the past, health in poor countries has focused on diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, but urban lifestyles, pollution and changing diets mean that threats such as cancer, diabetes and strokes are becoming more serious threats.

Health research that resulted in solutions involving expensive drugs, sophisticated technology or the need for myriad specialists would only have limited applicability in poorer countries, he said.

''How much of the technology that's developed is useful or relevant to the poor?'' Matlin asked.

The health minister of China, which is hosting the conference, conceded that his country still suffered huge gaps in its ability to provide adequate health care to its 1.3 billion people.

''China still suffers from wide disparities in allocation of health resources,'' Health Minister Chen Zhu told the forum.

''Big cities in the coastal regions are only part of China. If you go to the middle and particularly the Western parts of China, you may see different things,'' he said.

Beijing has pledged to provide its population with basic medical care by 2020, but currently the costs of seeing a doctor or staying in the hospital are out of reach for many in the world's fourth-largest economy.

Chan cautioned that advances in health care must keep the poor in mind.

''If we want health care to reduce poverty, we cannot allow the cost of care to drive impoverished households even deeper into poverty,'' she said.

Reuters SKB DB0907

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