Leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations have called for lower customs duties on drug imports to bring medicine and medical technology into easier reach for people in the world's poorest countries.
"We encourage governments around the world to consider eliminating import tariffs and non-tariff barriers on medicines... as a measure to reduce further the cost of healthcare for the poor," G8 leaders, meeting in Saint Petersburg in Russia, said in a statement Sunday.
They highlighted the fact that infectious diseases remain the leading cause of death in the world and said "vigorous" action to counter this was essential to global development and the well-being of the world's population.
"The situation is especially acute in least developed countries, particularly in Africa where governments and their people face limited access to prevention and essential healthcare information," the G8 leaders said.
They said "immediate attention" was required on bird flu, which could become a human pandemic, and called for "effective, coordinated and comprehensive action" to combat all infectious diseases.
The leaders said they were determined to achieve "tangible progress" in six general areas, including keeping earlier promises on countering major infectious diseases, monitoring their spread and working on cures.
They said that confronting the HIV/AIDS epidemic had been a top G8 priority for years and promised to continue efforts to check its spread and that of other diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria that cause millions of preventable deaths each year.
The leaders noted that HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria continued to have a particularly severe impact on Africa, "where these three deadly diseases exist side-by-side with a plethora of other deadly, endemic infections."
"We reaffirm our partnership with African nations and with the African Union, and will continue to work with them... to improve health systems overall and to fight infectious diseases," the G8 leaders said.
The Group of Eight (G8) comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.