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International Thursday, 14 January, 1999, 14:36 GMT
WHO launches anti-poverty drive
Poverty is the main cause of ill health, says the WHO
The World Health Organisation is to launch a global anti-poverty drive in an effort to improve what it sees as the main cause of ill health.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of the WHO, told a meeting at the King's Fund charity in London on Thursday that health was directly linked to economics.

She said the WHO was reforming the way it worked to support countries.

This involved making sure money from donor countries went to overall health improvement plans rather than fragmented programmes.

Mrs Brundtland said money was being wasted because aid for health was not being dealt with in a coordinated way.

"Health systems have become the dumping ground for the consequences of inadequate policy", she said.

"For far too long the broad international community: governments, industry and scores of economic actors, regarded poverty and human suffering as a side effect of the modern world economy," she said.

Development and health

The WHO believes reducing poverty can reduce disease and vice versa.

"Improved health is a key factor for human development and again for the development of nations and for their economic growth," said Ms Brundtland.

"If we manage, hundreds of millions of people will be better able to fulfill their potential, enjoy their legitimate human rights and be driving forces in development.

Gro Harlem Brundtland: 'ill health perpetuates poverty'
"People would benefit. The economy would benefit. The environment would benefit."

A study from Indonesia had shown, for example, that workers treated for anaemia were 20% more productive than those not treated.

Mrs Brundtland said there had been many health gains this century, but the growing gap between the rich and poor was eating away at them.

Good governance

A fifth of the world's population has no access to health care and health was often targeted at the middle class, rather than at the poorest members of society.

And poverty affected the developed countries too, said Mrs Brundtland.

A recent study in the USA showed a poor, black man lived an average of 41 years less than a rich, white woman.

She said any anti-poverty plan would require recipients to practice good governance.

To this end, the WHO is increasing its emphasis on accountability, transparency and human rights.

It is also developing new partnerships to tackle the economic causes of ill health.

Mrs Brundtland said public health was a key factor in improving poverty and had been underfunded.

Praising the UK government's moves on public health and a report linking poverty with ill health, she called for public health to be rebuilt for a new era.

The WHO will set up a high-level group of external advisors on the role of health in poverty reduction.

In keeping with the emphasis on economics, most of its members will not be development and economic experts, rather than health officials.

Gro Harlem Brundtland on the anti-poverty drive
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15 Oct 98 | Health
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