WASHINGTON - The World Bank said that it was mobilising up to 3.1 billion dollars this year in health financing to help poor countries battle threats to their social services during the global economic crisis. The amount triples the support from 1 billion dollars last year and will be used to strengthen health systems in poor countries, boost their performance in preventing and treating communicable diseases, and improving child and maternal health, hygiene and sanitation, the bank said. The institution added it was also doubling its education financing this year in low- and middle-income countries to $4.09b. The new health and education numbers followed the announcement earlier this week that the banks investments in social protection programmes, including social safety nets, are expected to rise dramatically for 2009-2010 to 12b. The global economic downturn has taken a wrecking ball to growth and development in the developing world, with children having to drop out of school and poor families eating cheaper, less nutritious food which can result in weight loss and severe malnutrition, especially for young children and pregnant women, said Joy Phumaphi, the WBs VP for Human Development. Phumaphi, who is former health minister for Botswana, said that during the East Asia financial crisis in the late 1990s, a survey of public health facilities in Thailand reported a 22pc increase in anaemia amongst pregnant women as mothers switched to eating less nutritious foods; in Indonesia, micro-nutrient deficiencies (especially Vitamin A) in children and women (of reproductive age) increased during the crisis period, while the average weight fell for children under the age of three. Evidence from previous crises in Argentina, Indonesia, Thailand, and Russia shows that govts were forced to cut health services as a result of shrinking budgets and that returning health spending to pre-crisis levels took up to 10-15 years to achieve. People most vulnerable to falling sick and into extreme poverty as a result of the global economic crisis include those living with disabilities, informal workers who toil in the shadows of the mainstream job market and make up a large percentage of the workforce in developing countries, and poor women and children, especially mothers and girls. We cannot afford a 'lost generation of people as a result of this crisis, Phumaphi said. It is essential that developing countries and aid donors act now to protect and expand their spending on health, education and other basic social services and target these efforts to make sure they reach the poorest and most vulnerable groups.