WHO tells governments to focus on basic health care

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA (Reuters) - Nearly 60 million women will give birth without any medical assistance this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday in a report calling for an overhaul of how health care is financed and managed globally.

The United Nations agency said in its annual World Health Report that the billions of aid dollars devoted to fight specific epidemics like AIDS had distracted attention from providing comprehensive care to mothers and children.

The difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest countries still exceeds 40 years, said the report, whose launch coincided with a global financial crisis that could freeze aid flows and squeeze government budgets for health care.

Some 58 million of the 136 million women who will have babies this year will lack medical help during and after their births, it said.

Increasingly specialized and technical medicine in wealthy nations has also excluded and impoverished millions of patients, exposing failures of “laissez-faire” governance in health, according to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

“We are, in effect, encouraging countries to go back to the basics,” Chan said in an introduction to the WHO report.

The report estimated that focusing more on disease prevention and health promotion — through vaccine and nutrition-boosting programs — could cut the global burden of infirmity by 70 percent.

And despite huge foreign aid sums earmarked for programs fighting AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other killer diseases in developing countries, the WHO said quality care remained scarce outside of those specific areas.  Continued…

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