• English
  • 日本語
  • France
  • Deutschland
  • Italy
  • España
  • Slovenia

Healthcare: key facts and resources

19 May 2008

A collection of facts, organisations, reports and further resources about healthcare from a global perspective. 

Key facts

International pledges

Since the 1970s, the need for equity in healthcare provision was acknowledged by the World Health Organization with a global effort to achieve ‘Health for All'.  In 1978, 130 governments signed the Alma-Ata declaration which aimed for the "attainment by all peoples of the world by the year 2000 of a level of health that will permit them to lead a socially and economically productive life."[1] Almost 30 years later, this noble goal has never appeared more elusive.

Health Inequality

More than 1 billion people lack access to basic health care services.[2]

Today, the richest 15 percent of the world consumes over 90 percent of its pharmaceuticals, leaving 85% of world consumers underserved or without access to essential medicine.[3]

The global rich-poor ‘health gap' is starkly reflected in regional life spans, averaging 49 years in the least developed countries, compared with nearly 75 years in Europe or North America.[4]

Only a few diseases are responsible for the global health-gap, reflected by the 2.3 million people who die from eight vaccine-preventable diseases annually.[5]

In Africa, infectious and parasitic diseases accounted for more than half of all deaths in 2001, compared with 2 percent of deaths in Europe.[6]

Developing world & Africa

Of the four greatest threats to human life - tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, malaria and poverty - the poorest countries suffer the majority of cases, yet spend the least amount on healthcare per person.[7]

In Africa, 6,300 people died from Aids every day in 2004, with a further 90 million new infections predicted for the next two decades.[8]

There are almost 25 million people infected with HIV/AIDS in Africa, and 7,700 Africans are newly infected every day. Every day, 5,800 Africans die from HIV/AIDS.[9]

One child dies from malaria every 30 seconds in Africa and several hundred million Africans are infected each year.[10]

Each day, 700 women die of pregnancy-related causes in Africa, and in the poorest countries women have a 1 in 10 chance of dying in childbirth.[11]

TB mortality rates are twice as high in Africa as in any other region and Africa has the highest rate of TB per capita in the world.[12]

Big pharma

Drug companies operating in a competitive marketplace spend more on advertising and marketing than research, more on research on lifestyle drugs than life saving drugs, and almost nothing on diseases that affect only developing countries.[13]

The pharmaceutical industry neglects the diseases of the tropics, not because the science is impossible but because there is, in cold economics terms, no market opportunity.[14]

Intellectual Property Rights & the MDGs

In 2000, world leaders made health a priority of the Millennium Development Goals, recognising that significant investments in health were essential for human development. Yet the health crisis that has devastated the developing world has shown no signs of abating. Infectious disease continues to kill millions of children and young adults.[15]

The international community will not be able to reach (the Millennium Development Goals on health) if it fails to tackle the problems caused by the high price of patented medicines, which keeps millions of people from receiving any treatment in developing countries.[16]

The TRIPS Agreement (established 1994) represented the single greatest expansion of intellectual property protection in history. To allay the concerns of developing countries, the (Doha Agreement of November 2001) established that countries could adopt measures to protect public health, promote public interest, and prevent abuse of intellectual property rules. These measures, known as public-health safeguards, enable countries to obtain cheaper patented medicines or generic equivalents of patented medicines.[17]

United States

As the wealthiest country that spends by far the most on healthcare per person - more than twice as much as Europe, Canada and Japan - the US ranks lower than 37 other countries in life expectancy.[18]

Medical insurance remains out of reach for around 50 million Americans, with an estimated 18,000 people who die each year because they lack health coverage.[19]

In one poll, 75 percent of Americans wanted the same protection as other wealthy countries, namely universal healthcare provision.[20]

Global Priorities

Only a small fraction of development spending, according to the Global Forum for Health Research, is directed toward diseases that account for 90 percent of the world's health problems.[21]

Only 92 cents per person could eliminate five major diseases affecting one billion people each year.[22]

Further resources







[1] WHO, Declaration of Alma-Ata (International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma-Ata,USSR, Sept. 6-12, 1978)

[2] Dara Carr. ‘Improving the health of the world's poorest people' (Population Reference Bureau, published in Health Bulletin #1, February 2004)

[3] ‘Investing for life: Meeting poor people's needs for access to medicines through responsible business practices' (Oxfam report, November 2007)

[4] UN Population Division figures cited in Dara Carr. ‘Improving the health of the world's poorest people' (Population Reference Bureau, published in Health Bulletin #1, February 2004) p 3.

[5] Figures cited by Dara Carr. ‘Improving the health of the world's poorest people' (Population Reference Bureau, published in Health Bulletin #1, February 2004) p 2.

[6] ‘The World Health Report 2002 - Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life' (WHO, Geneva, 2002) p 186-7.

[7] Figures cited by Dara Carr. ‘Improving the health of the world's poorest people' (Population Reference Bureau, published in Health Bulletin #1, February 2004) p 4.

[8] ‘HIV ‘set to infect 90m Africans'' (BBC News, March 4th 2005)

[9] 'AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2006' (UNAIDS/WHO) p 2.

[10] 'Mobilizing Support to Fight Malaria in Africa' (World Bank, September 2005)

[11] ‘The world health report 2005 - make every mother and child count' (World Health Organization, 2005)

[12] 'Opportunities for Africa's Newborns' (The Partnership for Maternal, Child and Newborn Health, Cape Town, 2006)

[13] Joseph Stiglitz. Scrooge and intellectual property rights (British Medical Journal, December 23, 2006, Volume 333)

[14] Isabel Hilton. ‘A bitter pill for the world's poor: Drugs companies do care for the suffering - if they have some cash' (The Guardian, January 5th 2000)

[15] ‘Patents versus Patients: Five years after the Doha Declaration' (Oxfam Policy Briefing, November 2006) p 7.

[16] Ibid, p 8.

[17] Ibid.

[18] World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007)

[19] DeNavas-Walt, C.B. Proctor, and C.H. Lee. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005 (U.S. Census Bureau., August 2006)

[20] New Harris Poll Finds Different Religious Groups Have Very Different Attitudes To Some Health Policies and Programs (The Harris Poll #78, October 20, 2005)

[21] 10/90 Report on Health Research 2003-2004 (The Global Forum for Health Research, May 2004)

[22] ‘You Can't Buy Anything for a Dollar Anymore... Or Can You?' (Report by Taskforce for Child Survival & Development, globalhealth.org, 2006)