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Archives for Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah

On the Ground in the Horn of Africa

Eighty kilometers from Kenya’s border with Somalia, the Dadaab Refugee Complex—already the world’s largest refugee camp—has seen on average 1,500 exhausted and starving men, women and children arrive each day.  Fleeing from famine that is now gripping a large portion of southern Somalia largely inaccessible to aid workers, thousands of refugees have walked days—or even weeks—to reach help.  The United Nations estimates that over 12.4 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical care, across the drought-stricken eastern Horn of Africa.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Dr. Jill Biden talking to a UNHCR worker in Dadaab. Photo Credit: USAID/East Africa

Yesterday, I arrived in Dadaab with representatives from across the United States Government, including Dr. Jill Biden, Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith, Senator Bill Frist and Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz.  The trip underscored the commitment of the U.S. Government—the single largest donor in the region—to respond to the immediate crisis with life-saving assistance and investments in long-term solutions to hunger. Ultimately, we know that it is smarter and cheaper to invest in food security than face the consequences of famine and food riots.

In Dadaab, we visited the Dagahaley camp’s reception center, where newly arriving refugees receive a medical screening and three weeks’ worth of food to tide them over until they complete a formal registration process. The USAID-funded rations include high energy biscuits, corn meal, vegetable oil, yellow split peas, salt and sugar.  Medical staff weigh the children and measure the circumference of their small arms to determine their nutrition status.  Today, the worst-affected regions in Somalia have the highest malnutrition level in the world, with nearly half the population malnourished.

Because the high rates of acute malnutrition make children extremely susceptible to deadly diseases, we are also aggressively pursuing public health interventions, including therapeutic feeding and immunizations.

New arrival family getting initial 3 week distribution (before formal registration). Photo Credit: USAID/East Africa

The Government of Kenya is working closely with the GAVI Alliance to administer pneumococcal vaccines to protect every child from pneumonia at the point of registration.

I met one Somali woman who traveled by donkey cart with her two children for 12 days looking for food. It is hard to believe that she counted among the lucky, as many families have lost children along the way.

It does not have to be this way.  With Feed the Future, President Obama’s initiative on food security, we are working with the Kenyan government and smallholder farmers to achieve sustainable, long-term and life-saving agriculture development.

Tomorrow, I will share with you some exciting innovations in agriculture that we saw on our visit to the Kenya Institute for Agriculture—innovations that could help ensure we never face another famine again.

Our Response to the Horn of Africa Drought

This morning, the United Nations declared what has become plain to anyone who has witnessed the devastation caused by this epic drought: thousands of people in southern Somalia are currently in a state of famine.

After the announcement, I visited the Wajir and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. I saw child after child weary from their long journey to the camps, eager for their first meal in days if not weeks. Seeing a child in such a fragile state—witnessing just one child face such difficult circumstances—is heartbreaking. Knowing that millions of children face a similar fate in the coming months unleashes a sense of profound sorrow.

Dadaab is now the fourth largest city in Kenya, home to more than 370,000 people who were in such a state of need that they fled their homes, many on foot, many from hundreds of miles away, just to find food, water, and healthcare for themselves and their children.

But the other thing I witnessed in those children was a strong sense of resilience. They weren’t beaten down by their circumstances or overcome with despair. They were courageous, strong, unwilling to succumb to the tragedy that surrounded them.

Throughout the region, more than 11.5 million people are in need of emergency assistance, and there is no quick fix to that need. The United States, in cooperation with all of its international partners, is doing everything it can to help relieve that suffering with food, water, healthcare, and other critical services. Our priority is to save lives, and our experts are working day and night to find every channel possible to provide that desperately needed assistance.

For years, we’ve been working with the Ethiopian government on a safety net program that has step by step improved food security for many living in areas vulnerable to drought.

Even in this record drought, due to that long-term effort, 8.3 million people that have benefited from this program today do not need emergency assistance.
Since October 2010, the U.S. Government has provided $459 million in life-saving aid to over 4.4 million people in the eastern Horn.

But that is no comfort today to those who have no food or water for their children, or for themselves. We must implement long-term strategies that can help prevent this kind of suffering once and for all.
The President’s Feed the Future initiative is designed to partner with countries like Ethiopia and Kenya to develop their own agricultural industries, helping them break free of the need for humanitarian food aid. Only through a long-term sustained investment in their own food security can these countries escape the vicious cycle of famine of food aid we’ve once again witnessed.

Dr. Rajiv Shah is the Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.

Talking with America’s Youth

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak with American youth from the White House about the importance of getting involved in international development. Kalpen Modi, the Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement, invited me to answer questions from a room full of young innovators and the Twitter and Facebook online communities.

I found this experience especially meaningful because I believe that young people today have a deeper and more thoughtful understanding of global development and its ties to our nation’s prosperity, security and values than at any time in our history. Through the power of social media and political advocacy, as well their ground efforts, they have gained a profound appreciation of the difficulties developing countries face and the interests our nation has in alleviating them.

A few weeks ago in Southern Sudan, I met a group of kids who are learning English and math in a USAID-supported primary education program.  The students ranged in ages from four to fourteen years old. Many of the older students have lived through a period of violence and suffering and have not yet had the opportunity for even a basic education. When you see American taxpayer money being effectively used to provide education in a way that improves the lives of these children and contributes to the peaceful founding of a new nation—the 196th country in the world—you get a genuine sense for the significance of this work.

More than ever before, young people recognize the importance of sustainable, long-term development and are getting directly involved in issues like education, hunger, climate change, and global health. They understand that a world in which hunger is beaten, diseases are eradicated, the planet is protected, markets are free and people are equal is a world that makes us safer, enhances our prosperity and reflects our values as Americans.

Today, the opportunities exist for young people to steer their talents towards serving those in greatest need, no matter what professions or degrees they choose. Whether you’re a teacher, investment banker, or engineer, you have valuable skills that can help drive meaningful change around the world. Visit our website to learn more, stay connected and tell us about the global development issues that concern you.

Stay tuned for more blog posts with additional answers to your specific development questions.

30 Years of HIV/AIDS: A USAID Historical Perspective

On June 5, 1981, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported that five seemingly healthy young gay men were diagnosed with an infection that would typically affect only individuals with substantial damage to their immune system. As similar cases cropped up, national and international attention soared, and the scientific and public health community mobilized to ascertain the scope and root of this anomaly. Eventually, the causal factor was given the name AIDS.

This month marks 30 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States. After scientists identified and isolated HIV, and confirmed it caused AIDS, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) began its HIV/AIDS development program. Starting in 1986, USAID’s work in this field has been ambitious and cutting edge, showcasing the best of American scientific ingenuity and demonstrating core American values.

In the 1980s and 1990s, we launched prevention, care and treatment programs through our missions around the world using approaches that fit within the social context of each country and targeted the most vulnerable populations. The proliferation of the disease across sub-Saharan Africa prompted us to intensify our focus on this region. In 2000, USAID convened the first agency-sponsored international meeting on male circumcision and HIV prevention. We also began some of the first prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

We quickly realized fighting this disease would require more than just new medication and care. In 2001, we forged a partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) to invest in research and development for an effective vaccine. To date, IAVI has made a number of groundbreaking discoveries, including several potent new antibodies to HIV, adding more vitality to this game-changing effort. In the same year, USAID commenced three pilot trials of antiretroviral treatment in Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana.

In 2003, President Bush announced an unprecedented initiative to ramp up the U.S. Government’s commitment to HIV/AIDS in the developing world. Today, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) continues to be the largest bilateral AIDS program in the world, touching millions of lives through prevention, care, and treatment. Through our global network of missions and partners, USAID currently implements more than half of all PEPFAR programs.

Through PEPFAR, USAID has contributed to saving lives through a variety of voluntary prevention interventions, counseling, testing and care programs. Today, more than 3.2 million people receive lifesaving treatment through the support of the American people.

Building on the strength of PEPFAR  and other successful US global health initiatives, USAID is working at an interagency level to ensure President Obama’s Global Health Initiative replicates and amplifies the success of our HIV/AIDS programs through a continued focus on health system strengthening and investments in innovation. Our award-winning Supply Chain Management System project has provided more than $750 million in HIV/AIDS commodities and saved $700 million by pooling procurements of generic AIDS drugs. We also funded the CAPRISA 004 Trial, which was completed last summer and provided the first-ever proof of concept that a microbicide can reduce risk of transmission from men to women.

Our work is far from done. We have a shared responsibility as a global partner to save lives by focusing on smart investments. The generosity of the American people has made sustained progress against this deadly disease possible. Closing the chapter on HIV/AIDS will require a steadfast focus on remaining gaps and challenges as we chart the way forward.

Renewed Commitment to Global Vaccines and Immunizations Will Save Lives

Originally posted on the White House Blog

During a time when we all – including the federal government – need to live within our means and find places to cut spending, any investments made by your government need to meet the test of whether it is an effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Immunizing children from preventable diseases meets that test. As USAID Administrator Raj Shah announced in London on Monday, by making a multi-year commitment to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), the US is able to get the most from our investment – leveraging a pledge of $450 million over three years more than eight-fold into billions of dollars in commitments from other donors, including the UK, the Gates Foundation, Norway and others.

Together, these commitments will help save the lives of 4 million children over the next five years, by getting more vaccines to more children and by helping to ensure the quantities of vaccines needed to lower the prices for new vaccines such as those that protect against pneumonia and diarrhea, the world’s two most potent childhood killers. All in all, we will be able to immunize more than 250 million children and prevent more than four million premature deaths.

Investments in vaccines are one of the best and most cost-effective life-saving investments for the world’s children, which is why we’ve made tough choices and trade-offs within our current global health portfolio to make this commitment.  As Administrator Shah said: “In this fiscal climate, a multi-year pledge is an extremely difficult commitment to make. But we have made tough reallocations across our portfolio in order to make that commitment because only a multi-year pledge will ensure the highest possible return for every taxpayer dollar.

Not only will our commitment inspire the generosity of other donors, it will help drive economies of scale that lower the cost of vaccines, allowing us to save even more lives. Just last week, GAVI reached an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline to cut the cost of the rotavirus vaccine by 67%. That kind of reduction is only possible with the guaranteed demand a multi-year pledge provides.”

In the lead up to GAVI’s conference, the White House received thousands of phone calls, emails, and signed petitions calling for continued U.S. support for GAVI.  The ONE Campaign issued a statement of support following our announcement, including praise from Bono who noted the President was “in it to win it.”

The U.S. has played a lead role in GAVI since its inception, and is a world leader in support of every aspect of the vaccines value chain, including research, development, vaccine affordability, delivery systems, and policy coordination.

Gayle Smith is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy for the National Security Staff

Making the Grade: U.S. Government Progress in Global Agricultural Development

Originally posted on DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State.
Ambassador Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

I am inspired by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ gathering of America’s most committed leaders from several professions to focus on global agriculture and food security. This Administration’s progress stems from bi-partisan support for results-driven, country-led, multi-stakeholder collaboration. When leaders such as Congresswoman Kay Granger, Bill Gates, Catherine Bertini, and Dan Glickman put their minds together, there’s no limit to the ingenuity applied to the substantial challenges we face in global agriculture and food security today.

There is no doubt that food security is vital to national security. In 2009, President Obama announced food security as a priority for the United States, and we are on track to meet our commitment of $3.5 billion over three years through the flagship U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. To do so, we take a multi-sectoral approach and build on areas where Americans have a comparative advantage. For example, we have tripled investment in agricultural research since 2008. At the Chicago Council event, Administrator Shah cited a two-thirds increase in funding for Title XII academic institutions to leverage expertise in capacity building, agricultural research and extension services, along with an intent to work through multidonor platforms seeking to strengthen lasting agricultural institutions. We invest in high impact solutions such as proven nutrition interventions that focus on women and children from pregnancy until the child’s second year — a critical 1,000 day window for cognitive and physical development.

We leverage our investments through multilateralism. Through my travel to Bangkok, I witnessed firsthand the impact of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization regional meetings on food price volatility to shift focus to knowledge-based solutions that discourage protectionist responses, such as hoarding and imposing export restrictions. We are working through the International Fund for Agricultural Development to boost investment for small holder farmer (including women) in developing countries. We are changing the way we address humanitarian assistance as well. By striving to best address of the needs of the most vulnerable and those in crisis, we have become the world’s fastest responder to food emergency through partnership with the World Food Program and civil society organizations. The World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress project demonstrates how markets can be created and augmented by sharing upfront knowledge and training and then stepping aside for private sector engagement. We continue to hear of new success stories around the world — from Ethiopia to Bangladesh.

While we strive for improved policy, strengthened institutions, and stronger partnerships, this Administration has succeeded in changing the playing field in agricultural development and food security. From farmers to policymakers, there is greater global coordination and collaboration to support country-led agricultural development plans. U.S. agricultural development investment now flows through a rigorous planning and evaluation process that will provide greater transparency and accountability to American taxpayers. We are also pioneering a women’s agricultural empowerment index to better track the impact of our work on women and girls. Never before have members from civil society, the private sector and government officials worked so intently to address global food security and deservedly so — the stakes are high and will continue to rise.

Working with Diaspora Communities to Deliver Meaningful Results

On Tuesday, I spoke at the Global Diaspora Forum, a gathering at the State Department that brought together representatives from diaspora communities around the world, from Haiti to Tanzania.  I had the opportunity to talk about ways USAID is rebuilding our engagement with diaspora—in areas like philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and volunteerism—under the framework of the Diaspora Network Alliance.  And I shared my appreciation for the unique relationships, knowledge and skills that diaspora communities bring to development.

In the aftermath of the last year’s earthquake in Haiti, diaspora volunteers worked with Tufts University to help translate text messages from people trapped in rubble—information we fed to our search and rescue teams on the ground in Haiti that helped save lives.  In South Sudan, we worked with skilled, educated Sudanese diaspora volunteers to develop local capacity in health and education.  As the referendum for independence approached, we supported polling stations abroad so that members of the southern Sudanese diaspora could participate.

I was reminded at the Global Diaspora Forum of my own family’s experience.  My parents immigrated to the United States, and I still recall the pride my father took in sending money in blue aerograms back home to our family in India.  In 2010, global remittances were valued at over $340 billion, but I know firsthand how much more they’re really worth.  So often a result of long hours and sacrifice, they mean the chance for a child to afford her school uniform, or the chance for a young person to take out a loan and open up a business.  And when they allow a family to buy food or medicine in a difficult time, they mean the difference between life and death.  That’s why we’re committed at USAID to making sure each dollar saved and each dollar transferred reaches its recipients at the lowest transaction cost possible.

You can learn more about our work with diasporas and remittances.

I was inspired by how many potential new partners I saw at the Forum and the possibilities going forward to learn from each other, share innovative ideas, and deliver meaningful results for developing countries.

USAID Joins Netherlands, Agriculture Organizations to Boost Southern Sudan Agriculture

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah today in Juba, Sudan, signed a communiqué on behalf of the U.S. Government to help boost private sector engagement in agriculture in southern Sudan, where the vast majority of people rely on agriculture for their livelihood.  In spite of enormous potential of the agriculture sector, most southern Sudanese farmers grow only enough to feed their families, but not to earn an income.

Listen to part of his speech at the event:

USAID, the Netherlands, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the International Fertilizer Development Center signed the communiqué, agreeing that they will help develop southern Sudan’s commercial agriculture sector by increasing agricultural productivity, supporting agribusinesses, and improving agricultural research and technology through:

  • Expanded use of quality seed and integrated soil fertility management
  • Development and expansion of an agro-dealer network
  • Revitalization of local agricultural training and research centers
  • Development of policies and regulations that support business development, sound regulatory practices, and innovation
  • Development of institutions that promote and support market infrastructure and information systems
  • Increasing farmers’ and entrepreneurs’ access to finance.

“Any effort to transform agriculture has to be comprehensive,” Shah said.  “The days of doing a small demonstration project in one part of a county and calling that agricultural development must be over.” Noting that he met with smallholder farmers from surrounding villages before the event, he added, “It is the smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, who will determine whether or not this effort succeeds.”

The event was held at Rajaf Farm, a commercial farm near Juba, which is financed by three British and seven Sudanese partners on land that was previously not being farmed or otherwise utilized.  They agreed with the population of adjoining Rajaf Village to help establish a community farm that the villagers will plant and manage, with assistance from the commercial farmers.  The collaboration has brought employment and agricultural training to the village residents, who previously did not earn a daily wage.  Now they earn 3 Sudanese pounds (approximately $1) per hour ($8 per day) to work at Rajaf Farm and are learning technical skills.

White House Easter Prayer Breakfast

By: Ari Alexander, Director, Center for Faith-based & Community Initiatives and Senior Advisor to the Administrator for NGO Partnerships and Global Engagement

Yesterday President Obama hosted a prayer breakfast observing the Christian holiday of Easter in the East Room of the White House.  In only its second year, President Obama is the first President to host such an event for Easter, and was honored to be joined by pastors and leaders from around the nation.  USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah attended the morning prayer breakfast and was recognized for his extraordinary leadership in the President’s remarks.

“Before I begin, I want to acknowledge one particular member of my administration who I’m extraordinarily proud of and does not get much credit, and that is USAID Administrator, Dr. Raj Shah, who is doing great work with faith leaders.  […]  Raj is doing great work with faith leaders on our Feed the Future global hunger program, as well as on a host of other issues.  We could not be prouder of the work that he’s doing.”

Following the breakfast,  attendees gathered for a series of policy briefings from various U.S. government agencies.  The discussion included topics on: energy and climate change; immigration; fatherhood and healthy families; human trafficking; and international development.  Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council, spoke eloquently about development, calling the gathered faith leaders “champions of dignity” for those often forgotten.  She highlighted the importance of the Presidential Policy Directive on Development as well as the role of USAID and Administrator Shah in leading the Feed the Future initiative.  The gathering was a unique opportunity to gather religious leaders from around the nation for a moment of reflection during Holy Week and to dialogue about ways to partner together in caring for the most vulnerable.

You can view the full transcript or video of the President’s remarks.

Calling All Probem Solvers: Help Make Birth Safe

This blog is cross posted from the OSTP blog.

The birth of a child is a momentous event anywhere in the world.  In many countries, though, the occasion is not just one of joy, but one of fear – fear for the life of the mother and the newborn baby.  The time between when a woman begins labor and 48 hours after the birth of a baby is a high-risk period during which millions of newborn babies and new mothers die each year.

US Agency for International Development(USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah delivers remarks at the launch of a Global Partnership on Maternal and Child Health on March 9, 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introduced a new partnership between the US Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and The World Bank that will seek innovative solutions to reduce maternal and child mortality in developing countries. Photo Credit: Chris KLEPONIS/AFP

That’s why today the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is leveraging the collective resources of our partners—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the Government of Norway, and The World Bank—to launch Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development. This grant-based program will seek groundbreaking prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant mothers and newborns around the time of delivery in rural, low-resource settings.

This extraordinary partnership underscores the fact that saving lives at birth is one of the most critical challenges facing people in developing countries.  Finding new technologies, such as low-cost infant resuscitation devices or incubators, and new approaches to improve birth outcomes for mothers and newborns would not only alleviate suffering, but would also have a significant impact on public health and economic productivity.

It would also accelerate progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, which call for a two-thirds reduction in under-five mortality, a three-quarters reduction in maternal mortality, and universal access to reproductive health services.

Saving Lives at Birth is the first in a series of Grand Challenges for Development that will be announced by USAID in the coming years to mobilize focused attention and resources around the most pressing obstacles to achieving our development goals.  These Grand Challenges for Development are definable, quantifiable goals that address some of the largest solvable problems poor countries currently face.  USAID will partner with other funders and encourage others to invest in finding innovative solutions to these Challenges that are sustainable, scalable, easily adopted, and that build on and utilize 21st-century infrastructure and technology.

These Challenges also reflect President Obama’s commitment to game-changing innovation as a powerful and cost-effective instrument for achieving development goals.  The President’s Policy Directive on Global Development focuses on sustainable development outcomes by placing a premium on broad-based economic growth, democratic governance, sustainable systems, and the creation and application of game-changing innovation to transform longstanding development challenges into solvable problems.

We believe that these Grand Challenges can address key priorities, catalyze innovations that drive economic growth, spur the formation of multidisciplinary teams of researcher and multi-sector collaborators, bring new expertise to bear on important problems, strengthen the ‘social contract’ between science and society, and inspire students and non-development experts to get involved in problem-solving for development.

USAID and its partners cannot solve the Grand Challenges for Development alone.  We hope that the effort to meet these challenges will be taken up by non-governmental organizations, the private sector, governments, and individuals around the world.  We know there are millions of people and organizations around the world who want to help but don’t know how to start.  This is a place to start.

For more information on the Challenge and application process, visit here.

Dr. Rajiv Shah is the USAID Administrator and Tom Kalil Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science

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