The World Health Organisation warned Monday the global financial crisis may spark a rise in mental illness and health problems as people turn to alcohol, tobacco and drugs to get through the downturn.
"This has happened in the past," said the UN agency's Director-General Margaret Chan at the launch of a conference on the financial crisis' effects on health.
"In times of economic crisis, people tend to forego private care and make more use of publicly financed services," she said, adding that many country's public health systems are already "overstretched and underfunded."
Chan also warned that periods of economic instability "increases the risk that people will neglect health care, with prevention falling by the wayside."
Richard Newfarmer, the World Bank's special representative to the UN and World Trade Organisation, said nearly 60 million people will be gripped by poverty if economic growth in developing countries halves during 2009.