At first glance the mandate set before the Commission on Health Research for Development when it was formed in 1987 may have read like an assignment from Mission Impossible: "to survey current health research worldwide, identify strengths and weaknesses, and propose improvements." But the independent international commission, headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., completed its task (the first of its kind) and recently published its findings in a 136-page report entitled "Health Research: Essential Link To Equity In Development." The report contains the results of a two-year survey that focused on health research activities, research capacity, and research support in 10 developing countries.

In essence, what the commission found is that the life span of those living in developing countries is one third shorter than that of people living in industrialized countries. Shorter life spans coupled with other health issues hinder economic, political, and social development. The commission also found a gross...

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