Yesterday I joined former USAID Administrator Peter McPherson, Egypt Embassy Counselor Motaz Zahran, and more than 100 members of the Egyptian diaspora and global health communities to launch USAID/Egypt’s Health and Population Legacy Review (pdf, 1.5mb).
The report demonstrates impressive long-term results of USAID health sector assistance in Egypt over 32 years. For example, over the past three decades, there have been declines in maternal mortality by more than 50 percent and in infant mortality by more than 70 percent, as documented by Egypt’s regularly released Demographic and Health Surveys. Medically assisted deliveries increased from 35 percent in 1988 to almost 80 percent in 2008.
I served in USAID’s Egypt mission from 1976 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1988, and I have seen with my own eyes the remarkable progress that has been achieved. When I left Cairo in 1980 oral rehydration therapy was not part of Egypt’s health program. When I returned in 1984 it appeared to me that there was an oral rehydration center in every neighborhood of Cairo and every village throughout the country.
The Egypt Health and Population Legacy Review attributes the success of programs like this to the duration of assistance and to robust funding and staffing levels. Because USAID was a reliable partner with the Ministry of Health and Population over a 32-year period, it allowed not only for introducing new programs, but also for seeing them through various stages of program evolution. The substantial level of funding over the decades also helped ensure that programs were implemented on a large enough scale to achieve significant impact.
Despite the accomplishments, much work remains to be done. And in many ways, the moment is ripe. This has been a historic time for the people of Egypt and the Middle East. And now, more than ever, it is vital that we use studies like these to learn from the past.
U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey said it best:
The emergence of a new political order in Egypt sets the stage for even greater improvements in the lives of Egyptians. The accomplishments, the institutional strengthening, the data and policy analysis, and – most important – the many new Egyptian health professionals and leaders, are a solid platform from which to launch new initiatives and innovations of many kinds. In the Egyptian health sector, the past can inform the future.