Health cutbacks in crisis would be mistake: WHO

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA (Reuters) - Governments should resist the temptation to cut their health budgets in response to a global financial crisis, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said steps to repair the economy should not only focus on rekindling trade and business growth but also on fighting poverty, misery and ill-health.

She told the Graduate Institute in Geneva that the credit crisis, paired with global warming and other pressures, stood to have “profound, and profoundly unfair” consequences for medical care, and particular efforts to confront and prevent disease.

Cutbacks to national health budgets during previous economic crises, such as the oil shock and global recession seen 30 years ago, have caused serious problems in poorer parts of the world, said Chan, a former Hong Kong health director.

“Huge mistakes were made in the restructuring of national budgets. Health throughout sub-Saharan Africa and in large parts of Latin America and Asia has still not recovered from these mistakes,” she said.

“There is too much at stake right now in our turbulent and tottering world to make the same mistakes again.”

The credit crisis and fears of a recession have overshadowed health care in the U.S. presidential race, and raised questions about whether Democratic candidate Barack Obama will be able to push through his health care reforms.

An adviser to John McCain said this week that financial turmoil had “thrown a wrench” into the Republican presidential candidate’s plans to balance the U.S. budget in his first term, potentially crimping foreign aid and other spending plans.  Continued…

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