New research by the UK-based Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has outlined how the world's major donors are missing opportunities to fund peace through funding local health systems in war-torn areas. The study, carried out jointly by the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the London and the University of Wales in Aberystwyth noted that 'The HIV/AIDS pandemic, famine and the health effects of wars and natural disasters kill millions and are the targets for significant amounts of international aid and charitable giving,' said Professor Colin McInnes from the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. 'Our study looked at whether directing attention to health could instead be a source of potential benefit. We examined whether it is possible to focus on health to contribute to security, rather than just responding to threats,' he said. The report examined how health initiatives were able to move countries away from conflict and into more stable environments. They were able to identify two ways in which healthcare made a difference - firstly in boosting health, perhaps an obvious conclusion, and secondly in contributing to lasting peace, a more complicated conclusion, as benefits varied relative to the country and the situation. 'Chances to have a positive effect on peace and security are being missed. Governments and other international donors need to understand this better, and create programmes to take more advantage of the links between the health sector and peace,' said co-author Dr Simon Rushton. Only a few international studies are running that take into account the differences that developments in health infrastructure could make, especially when those health structures focus on non-segregation, professional ethics and human rights. Examples include the World Health Organisation's Health as a Bridge for Peace programme and McMaster University's Peace through Health project. The allocation of effective healthcare is an important way in which fragile governments can build trust between themselves and their citizens. This in turn can help give those governments legitimacy - the beginning of a social contract between citizen and state. The project followed several post-conflict societies, from Sierra Leone to Croatia, Kosovo and South Africa. In Croatia, for example, reintegration of the Serb and ethnic Croat populations in hospital environments 'was largely successful during the UN transitional administration and could serve as a model for other countries emerging from civil conflicts', reads the project summary. In Sierra Leone, post-war investments in the health sector had not been linked to initiatives to promote peace and stability and this could be seen as a missed opportunity.