Throughout the world, vulnerable and socially disadvantaged people have less access to health resources, get sicker and die earlier than people in more privileged social positions. These unfair gaps are growing in spite of an era of unprecedented global wealth, knowledge and health awareness. Health is central to the global agenda of reducing poverty and in particular, to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Weak and inequitable health systems--especially those that are confronted by severe human resources shortages or lack means for sustainable financing--represent a key obstacle to scaling up the disease prevention and control programmes required to meet the health objectives outlined in the Goals: reducing child and maternal mortality and the burden of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and providing access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries. It is vital that countries ensure that health is prioritized within overall development and economic policies. Inversely, social, political and economic initiatives can improve health system functioning if they make these systems a priority.
Hospitals matter to people and often mark central points in their lives. They also matter to health systems by being instrumental for care coordination and integration. They often provide a setting for education of doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals and are a critical base for clinical research.