Since 1948 the World Health Organization has had the challenging task of trying to achieve ‘the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health’ (World Health Organization, 1946). A central part of this work has involved assessing the extent of health-related problems in different parts of the world and advocating for the implementation of effective strategies to address these problems. For many years the World Health Organization has expressed concerns about the relatively low level of funding assigned to mental health services in many countries. Estimates based on data collected in 2000 show that in most of sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia there are fewer than one mental health nurse and one psychiatrist per 100 000 people (World Health Organization, 2001). Two papers produced with the support of the World Health Organization and published in this issue of the Journal strengthen the argument for additional funding for mental health services. In the first paper, üstün and colleagues (2004, this issue) summarise data on the relative impact of common health-related problems in different regions of the world, and in an accompanying paper Chisholm and others (2004, this issue) estimate the cost-effectiveness of different interventions for depression in these different areas.
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