USAID 50th anniversary banner

In celebration of our 50th anniversary, a number of senior USAID personnel were recently interviewed by PSI for their magazine Impact. We’ll be bringing you portions of these interviews over the next few weeks as a part of our 50th Anniversary blog series. This week’s installment is an interview with Susan Brems, USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health.

IMPACT: What are some of the overarching issues that threaten progress on global health challenges like malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, reproductive health and child survival?

SUSAN BREMS: These challenges can be grouped into two categories. Some apply to all technical health areas and some are specific to each health area. Among the overarching challenges, resources are primary. By resources I mean financial, human and technical resources – all of the wherewithal to carry programs into the interior of countries and take them to scale. The other part would be the challenges that are specific to various health areas. For example, in HIV, we’ve been a little bit hamstrung by the lack of a tool kit for prevention; with recent breakthroughs, now that’s moving forward quite a bit.

IMPACT: Your Ph.D. dissertation focused on reproductive health of rural women in Brazil. As a leader in the Global Health Initiative – which takes a woman- and girl-centered approach – what are the key activities moving forward that will improve the health of females in developing countries?

SB: A common mistake that we make in the health field is that we presume a program is woman centered or girl centered by virtue of having females as our target group. To the extent that we can move from seeing women as beneficiaries of programs to employing them in a sincere way in program design, management, supervision, quality control and customer satisfaction, I think then we’ll really have a woman and girl-centered approach.

IMPACT: Using science and technology to develop transformative tools is a principle that defines USAID’s development work. What are other technologies that you are hopeful will provide similar advances?

SB: This past year was a banner year, with the success of the CAPRISA 004 clinical trials on a microbicide; this is an area where we’re working intensively. We are looking forward to confirmatory studies that can lead to speedy approval of [tenofovir gel] and then participate in the roll out. There also are new immunization technologies that have been proven for rotavirus and pneumonia, and there are the challenges of scale and financial resources to roll them out. In contraceptives, we have new generations of contraceptives coming online that we’ll continue to support. Double-purpose HIV and pregnancy prevention would be a really wonderful thing for women. So it varies, but I think we have on the horizon a number of successful technologies.

Visit PSI’s Impact Magazine for the full interview and YouTube video.