Submitted by Wendy Coursen

This is Education Week at USAID. We work across the globe from Dhaka to Dakar; and Kabul to Kinshasa to promote development and save lives by helping people and societies recover from disaster, escape poverty, and improve health and education.  All efforts are conducted on behalf of the American people – reflecting the care and generosity of our nation that people across the globe admire and respect.

Throughout our nearly 50-year history, USAID has developed robust education programs that have increased literacy, built local capacity to deliver basic education services, encouraged workforce development, and developed generations of leaders through scholarships and access to higher education. On a fundamental level, education empowers societies: It leads to opportunities for economic growth, promotes civic engagement and good governance, and supports (PDF)sustainable democracy.  In the development community, we often say the same about the benefits of ; in fact, education and health not only complement, but depend on each other for maximum impact.

Community Health Worker

A community health worker in Nemba, Rwanda, teaches a health education class to women. USAID, with partner Jhpiego, has trained 800 community health workers in Rwanda. Credit: Jhpeigo

For disease prevention and treatment, the communities we serve often need access to commodities like bed nets , antiretroviral drugs, and safe water.  They also need the tools and access to information about critical health concerns and what to do about them. Women who participate in literacy programs have better knowledge of health and family planning and are more likely to adopt preventive health measures or seek medical help for themselves and their children. Family planning also enables women to stay in school longer, which contributes to improved maternal and child survival and increased ability for parents to raise healthy, well-nourished children.  Healthy children, we know, are more likely to learn, more likely to thrive throughout their lives and contribute to their communities as adults.  Early and sustained investments in health and education – for men, women, and children — are truly investments for life.

In the late 1990s, USAID was instrumental in bringing the educational children’s series Sesame Street to South Africa. The country has been significantly impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and in 2002, the show introduced Kami, the world’s first HIV-positive Muppet. Through Kami, age-appropriate HIV/AIDS messages reach millions of children, parents, caregivers, and educators. Her message is also helping to reduce the fear of stigma that prevents many from seeking treatment.

In a recent effort to integrate health and education, USAID supported a (PDF) voluntary male circumcision campaign in the province with the highest HIV prevalence in Tanzania. Male circumcision is key for HIV/AIDS prevention. One hundred doctors, nurses, and HIV counselors received training to help carry out the campaign, which reached 10,000 men and adolescents in just six weeks. People were counseled and tested for HIV and provided with key information about HIV prevention. While there, they were also screened for sexually transmitted infections and provided with condoms.  The impact of such a comprehensive approach is measurable: Through this campaign alone, an estimated 2,000 HIV infections will be averted.

Educating and engaging local health providers like the doctors, nurses, and counselors who participated in the campaign in Tanzania is critical to building local capacity and strong health systems. Across the globe, USAID has provided training to  community health workers like Sadiqa Husseini, a midwife in Afghanistan, who are working to increase access to healthcare and information to improve opportunities for women and families, reduce deaths of mothers and newborns, and strengthen communities.

USAID has long championed the importance of education in creating opportunities across the globe. We have noted significant successes, but there is still a lot to do. USAID is committed to continuing its support of education and health programs to help create healthy and prosperous societies around the world.