* Health experts say "grand convergence" possible by 2035
* Investment needs to focus on R&D, drugs and vaccines
* Taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugar also recommemded
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Dec 3 Health disparities between rich
and poor nations could be banished in a generation by investment
in research, vaccines and drugs to combat diseases such as AIDS,
malaria and tuberculosis, global health experts said on Tuesday.
In a report setting out a plan for a "grand convergence" in
health, the experts said world leaders needed to press for a
concerted increase in research and development (R&D) investment
to develop new medicines, vaccines and health technologies.
"For the first time in human history, we are on the verge of
being able to achieve a milestone for humanity: eliminating
major health inequalities...so that every person on earth has an
equal chance at a healthy and productive life," said Larry
Summers, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary who co-chaired a
commission on global health.
The report also recommended taking bold preventative steps
in public health, such as increasing taxes on tobacco and other
substances that can be harmful, like alcohol and sugar.
Taking China as an example, it said a 50 percent tax on
tobacco could prevent 20 million premature deaths and generate
an extra $20 billion annually over the next 50 years.
Summers said effective drugs and vaccines now available
"make reaching this milestone affordable" and urged world
leaders to take on what he called "our generation's unique
opportunity to invest in making this vision real".
The report, called "Global Health 2035: A World Converging
within a Generation" was written by 25 leading international
health experts and economists, chaired by Summers, of Harvard
University, and published in The Lancet health journal.
It said spending should be prioritised in key areas,
including aggressively scaling up new and existing medicines and
policies for HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected
tropical diseases and maternal and child health.
The report's authors said that if their recommendations were
followed, roughly 10 million lives could be saved in low-income
and middle-income countries in the year 2035 alone - progress
that would bring enormous social and economic gains for the
countries most affected.
To get to such a point, global investment in R&D needs to be
at least doubled, the experts said, from around $3 billion a
year now to $6 billion by 2020. Half of that increased
investment would need to come from middle-income countries.
"The role of international assistance, while still vital, is
going to increasingly emphasise scientific research, provide
templates and models that can be emulated, and focus on
development of techniques and dissemination of information,"
Summers said in a statement issued with the report.
He said while aid would remain critical it should become
"less about financial support to individual countries and more
about the provision of global public goods".
Richard Horton, The Lancet's editor and another of the
report's authors, said the world should recognise that investing
in health is also an investment in prosperity, social and
financial protection, and national security.
"Investing in health means investing in a quality human
beings value deeply, but which we do not capture well in our
usual measures of development," he said.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; editing by Ralph Boulton)