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Investing in Health for Economic Development

At the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, 180 world leaders pledged to achieve significant advances in the well-being of the world's poor by 2015. Several of the key Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) relate to health, in particular controlling epidemic diseases and reducing the death rates of mothers in childbirth and young children. To further the Summit's goals, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland asked me to head a Commission on Macroeconomics and Health with the aim of charting a path for the world to achieve those MDGs in health and poverty reduction. Our Commission released its findings on December 20th.

Our Commission grappled with the challenge of burgeoning epidemic diseases that are ravaging the poorest countries of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite a considerable diversity of views at the outset of the two-year investigation, the Commission reached a strong consensus after examining extensive evidence from around the world.

The core findings are easily summarized. First, the disease burden in the poorest countries constitutes a fundamental barrier to their economic advance. Second, millions of impoverished people die tragic deaths each year from infectious diseases that are preventable and treatable simply because they lack access to the needed health services. Third, using existing technologies, it would be possible to save 8 million lives per year by the end of the decade, but only if rich countries help poor countries to obtain these technologies.

Specifically, the Commission calls for rich countries to put aside one tenth of one percent of their gross national product - or just one penny out of every ten dollars of income - on behalf of health services for the world's poor. Since the combined income of rich countries is around $25 trillion per year, this would mobilize $25 billion per year which, when combined with the poor countries' own increased contributions, would dramatically improve the health conditions of the world's low-income countries.