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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. 1990 Oct; 80(10):1188-92.Health trends since 1950 in both developed and developing countries are classified and discussed in terms of causative factors: socioeconomic development, cross-national influences and growth of national health systems. Despite the vast differences in scale of health statistics between developed and developing countries, economic hardships and high military expenditures, all nations have demonstrated significant declines in life expectancy and infant mortality rates. Social and economic factors that influenced changes included independence from colonial rule in Africa and Asia and emergence from feudalism in China, industrialization, rising gross domestic product per capita and urbanization. An example of economic development is doubling to tripling of commercial energy consumption per capita. Social advancement is evidenced by higher literacy rates, school enrollments and education of women. Cross-national influences that improved overall health include international trade, spread of technology, and the universal acceptance of the idea that health is a human right. National health systems in developing countries are receiving increasing shares of the GNP. Total health expenditure by government is highly correlated with life expectancy. The view of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that health care should be privatized is a step backward with anti-egalitarian consequences. The UN Economic Commission for Africa attacked the IMF and the World Bank for promoting private sector funding of health care stating that this leads to lower standards of living and poorer health among the disadvantaged. Suggested health strategies for the future should involve effective action in the public sector: adequate financial support of national health systems; political commitment to health as the basis of national security; citizen involvement in policy and planning; curtailing of smoking, alcohol, drugs and violence; elimination of environmental and toxic hazards; and maximum international collaboration.