The amount of cash spent on health research has reached its highest ever level but it is failing to address the significant needs of low- and middle-income countries.

That is the stance taken in a report launched by the Global Forum for Health Research (GFHR) in London which reveals that worldwide expenditure on health research in 2005 was $160.3 billion, the greatest sum ever spent and up from $125.8 billion in 2003. The breakdown of the G7 countries was: USA $35 billion, Japan $6.3 billion, UK $4.2 billion, France $3.5 billion, Germany $3.3 billion, Canada $2.7 billion and Italy US$ 2.5 billion.

The forum says that 97% of spending on health research continues to be conducted by high-income countries, but most of that money “went towards generating products, processes and services required for their own health-care needs”. The independent international foundation based in Switzerland adds that “there is a small but encouraging increase” by low- and middle-income countries to $5.1 billion but millions of people are still dying each year from diseases that disproportionately affect poor populations.

That is the view of the forum’s executive director Stephen Matlin who gives the example that globally almost 10 million children under five die each year and 97% of child deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries," He added that the work going on in developed countries “is of course very important” but “all countries need to commit a bigger proportion of their spending to the challenges in the developing world."

Prof Matlin also noted that in recent weeks, “we have seen governments across the world working together to solve the global financial crisis” and in the same way, “the global community must act together to invest in health research and achieve global health gains”.

The report goes onto say that over the next 25 years the situation in low- and middle-income countries will become even more complex as health problems more associated with richer nations affect more people. Gill Samuels, head of the foundation council of the Geneva-headquartered organisation, noted that “we are seeing vast changes in the global health landscape with the burden of disease shifting from infectious to non-communicable diseases”. Chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes now account for 60% of deaths globally and “an alarming 80% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries”.

The GFHR added that it will be introducing a tracking tool “to help promote the closure of health inequities”. This will come in the form of a regular report card.