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Linking resources with priorities


Mental and neurological disorders comprise 13% of the global burden of disease and are a leading cause of disability worldwide. Despite this evidence, mental health remains one of the most under-researched areas in public health. In fact, most low- and middle-income countries devote less than 1% of their health investments to mental health.


Data on investments in R&D for health are indicators of current research priorities, overlaps, gaps and trends. As efforts to address the health needs of poor populations are evolving, it is vital to regularly track these investments to make sure they are used better: in more efficient, effective and equitable ways.

Yet, as a result of inadequate statistical systems, limited information is available on the details of how much is being invested on research in low- and middle-income countries in relation to specific diseases, conditions, determinants, geographical regions or population groups.


Since resources for research are scarce, priority setting is vital to ensure that the resources are well used and are focused on addressing the most pressing population needs to enhance health and health equity.


Climate change is already impacting on health and is resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Climate change is projected to worsen the already intolerable disease and death burden from malnutrition and environment-related diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and acute respiratory infection through multiple pathways, such as economic and social disruption, food insecurity - leading to malnutrition and impaired immune functions, water scarcity particularly where sanitation and hygiene are poor and the direct impact on transmission potential for vector-borne disease. The resulting annual economic cost of the burden of disease from environmental factors could reach up to 9% of a country’s GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia when the effects of malnutrition on mortality, cognitive development and educational performance are also taken into account.

Much remains to be done to ensure that research is directed to addressing the staggering health inequities that will result increasingly from climate change. The weak capacity for research in low-income countries is a major obstacle to developing the ability to adapt to changing conditions and is therefore deepening health inequalities.


Despite various global commitments to sexual and reproductive health for all, inequalities and problems exist. Around the world – and especially in low- and middle-income countries - many adolescents do not have access to information about sex and sexuality; many couples lack access to modern means of family planning; and many women die needlessly due to lack of antenatal and emergency obstetric services.

Research plays an essential role in identifying and overcoming the effects of social and economic inequalities and health system deficiencies. The evidence needed to address the sources of these inequalities, however, has been scanty. Furthermore, many sexual and reproductive health problems are invisible even to the individuals themselves, as a result, for example, of a lack of information, cultural taboos or shame.

Much more research is needed to make the invisible visible.


Each year, workplace risks exact a tremendous toll around the world. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 2.3 million people die each year because of work-related accidents and disease. This is more than three times the figure for deaths from warfare (650 000 deaths per year). The actual numbers are likely to be even higher, given the difficulties of gathering reliable data in low- and middle-income countries.

Yet, there is no question that many work-related deaths and illnesses could be prevented.