Maryland signed a first-of-its-kind agreement last week to help the World Health Organization tackle health problems in some of the world's poorest countries.
The agreement commits Maryland to send physicians and nurses to Third World countries to help solve health problems for some of the millions of people living in poverty.
The agreement also should open some economic opportunities for Maryland companies, Gov. Parris Glendening said. And the organization will sponsor an international conference in Baltimore next year expected to draw up to 500 delegates to talk about links between poverty and poor health.
Glendening signed the agreement along with Michel Jancloes, a director of the WHO, and Martin Wasserman, state health secretary.
Jancloes said it is the first time his organization has entered into an agreement with a state to work together on healthcare problems.
"Why Maryland? Certainly Johns Hopkins and world-class public health education are synonymous in many people's minds. This provides one reason," he said.
He also cited the University of Maryland medical school and hospital and the work being done by Baltimore to bring better healthcare to poor inner-city residents as reasons to choose Maryland.
Wasserman said institutions such as Johns Hopkins will pay the salaries of doctors and staff members who will travel to other countries, usually for a few weeks, to work on specific health problems. The state health department will coordinate the program, and the WHO will pay expenses for volunteers who travel to other countries.
"They may evaluate the quality of care, look at infrastructure, evaluate the need for medical equipment," Wasserman said.
Jancloes said the WHO believes the agreement will be a two-way street.
"We not only expect to learn and make use of Maryland's special competence in public health, but we also are willing to contribute to Maryland's search for more effective ways to increase and improve public health services, particularly to the underserved," he said.
Wasserman said Maryland may be able to learn some lessons about providing care to its poorest citizens.
Some techniques and programs will work equally well "whether in East Baltimore or East Pakistan," he said.
Even before the agreement was signed, Maryland sent medical experts to Sierra Leone and Guyana on missions financed by the WHO.
Those trips and the agreement stemmed from contacts made by state economic development officials in Brussels, who were looking for ways to help Maryland companies sell medical equipment and supplies internationally.
Jancloes said the Maryland agreement is part of an effort to improve "atrocious health conditions in the 48 least-developed countries."
"Contrary to popular view, they are getting worse not better," he said.