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June 18, 2010 at 9:33 AM

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Spending on global health expected to drop by 2013: IHME

Posted by Kristi Heim

By Sandi Doughton

Funding for programs to boost health around the globe has continued to increase over the past few years, despite the economic downturn.

But the growth is unlikely to continue much longer, said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

An earlier analysis by Murray and his colleagues found that spending on global health programs quadrupled between 1990 and 2007, from $5.6 billion to nearly $22 billion.

The upswing was partly fueled by wealthy, private donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The total includes funding from developed nations, corporations and NGOs.

But Murray said Thursday at IHME's annual board meeting that the previous report was outdated by the time it was released last year.

An update shows that funding climbed to $23.6 billion in 2008. Murray estimates it will hit about $29 billion this year.

Economic modeling predicts that the effects of the global recession will start to be felt in 2013, when total spending will probably dip, he said.

Founded with a $105 million grant from the Gates Foundation, IHME's mission is to bring rigorous statistical analysis to the evaluation of health programs and trends worldwide.

But the institute's work, which has uncovered exaggerated childhood vaccinations rates and undermined UNICEF claims of rapid declines in child death rates, has earned it animosity.

Dr. Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet -- which has published many of IHME's studies -- read the board members a scathing e-mail he received from another global health scientist, angry that Murray and his team were viewed as a "conquering hero," while those who have worked for decades on the front lines of global health are now portrayed as villains.

Horton urged IHME to reach out more to its critics, perhaps by sponsoring an annual conference focusing on global health science.

Ethiopian Health Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a member of IHME's board, said the institute wouldn't be doing its job if there was no controversy about its work. But he suggested IHME make its work more useful to developing nations by tailoring analyses to individual countries.

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