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Tackling Malaria and Other Transboundary Challenges in the Lower Mekong through Regional Cooperation

Gregory Beck serves as deputy assistant administrator for Asia

Greg Beck serves as deputy assistant administrator for Asia

More than 60 million people live in the lower Mekong River basin, a region of the world currently struggling with drug-resistant malaria. While the introduction of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs) for treatment of malaria has helped to greatly reduce its prevalence over the past decade, a high percentage of malaria cases are now failing treatment with ACTs, endangering global progress in fighting this communicable disease. With no alternative antimalarial medicine available, this presents a serious health security risk that requires robust regional and global cooperation to effectively overcome.

CSIS2Such was a major topic of discussion at an event on the Mekong’s health and development future that I participated in on Tuesday morning, November 12, at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). Robust regional cooperation is key to developing and implementing sustainable solutions to global challenges such as drug-resistant malaria. That’s why at USAID, we are deepening our engagement with regional institutions working to promote integration and shared solutions in a region of the world closely tied to America’s security and prosperity — the Asia-Pacific.

One such regional body is the Lower Mekong Initiative, or LMI. Comprised of the governments of the United States, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam, LMI works to identify collaborative solutions to challenges shared by the five lower Mekong nations — from water resources management to vulnerability to climate change. As a result of the LMI infrastructure we’ve helped put in place, regional working groups have been established with both U.S. and lower Mekong country counterparts to discuss for the first time in a regional setting how best to achieve shared development goals. Over the past year we have established a new LMI coordination hub at our Regional Development Mission for Asia in Bangkok. In conjunction with LMI, we are also actively supporting the Friends of the Lower Mekong, which coordinates the development work of donors in the region.

Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook

Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook

We are making progress. Our shared successes have been clearly demonstrated in the regional collaboration and coordination that took place in response to the emergence of H7N9 avian influenza in 2013, as compared to the SARS pandemic 10 years ago when information was not adequately shared. For H7N9 avian influenza, the sharing of surveillance results, samples and lab methodologies within China and globally started about 40 days after the first case developed symptoms. This information was used to rapidly take steps to limit the spread of the virus and establish animal and human surveillance and lab testing for H7N9 in the LMI countries using platforms previously developed for H5N1 avian influenza. As a result, only 139 human infections with H7N9 virus have been documented and only one country has been affected to date. In comparison, SARS cases had accumulated for about three months before the virus was detected. By the time the SARS pandemic subsided in late 2003, there had been over 8,400 human infections in 29 countries and the economic impact was estimated to be at least $80 billion.

We are forging partnerships to combine resources for maximum impact. Through the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, we’ve joined AusAID, DFID, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — organizations highly concerned by the emergence of artemisinin-resistant malaria and the impact that this may have on regional and global efforts to control and eliminate this disease. We continue to work with these agencies and with the World Health Organization and the Global Fund in the region to speed up efforts to reach all populations at risk with effective treatment and prevention. Our support for the President’s Malaria initiative has been at the forefront of efforts in the region to protect drug quality and efficacy by detecting and banning counterfeit and sub-standard drugs and providing effective treatment to vulnerable populations. Significant progress has already been made, for example, in western Cambodia, where malaria transmission has decreased markedly since the problem of artemisinin resistance was first identified there.

Also, earlier this year, the United States, Thailand and Burma signed a Mutual Declaration for cooperation on malaria prevention and control in the Thai/Burma border region. This is especially important as Burma opens its doors to the international community. Burma has the greatest malaria burden in the Mekong region at 591,000 suspected cases a year — three times the number of cases in Laos, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand combined. Activities under the new trilateral program are expected to include training health care workers in Burma, piloting innovative service delivery strategies, and facilitating information sharing between twin cities.

Our regional cooperation includes the opportunity to highlight innovative advancements from research, science and technology. This is core to USAID’s development programming that harnesses the efforts in the region as well as in the United States to most effectively and efficiently address development challenges. As a result of our investments in science and technology through LMI, eight veterinary and 17 public health diagnostic laboratories in the lower Mekong region have enhanced capacity for safe, accurate and rapid diagnosis of significant endemic and emerging infectious diseases.

Like our deepening engagement in the region, LMI continues to grow. LMI reflects the commitment of the United States to the well-being of the people and the long-term success of countries in the region, and we look forward to continued shared progress.

Learn more about the Lower Mekong Initiative.

 

Video of the Week: POTUS on Typhoon Haiyan

This originally appeared on whitehouse.gov/typhoon.

On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan—known as Yolanda in the Philippines—made landfall in the central Philippines, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that have resulted in flooding, landslides, and widespread damage.

According to USAID, the storm affected an estimated 9.7 million people, and damaged or destroyed approximately 23,200 houses, as well as public infrastructure and agricultural land. Those numbers are expected to increase in the coming days as more information becomes available.

Learn more about how you can help and the Statement from USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah on Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Resources:

Click on the image view USAID's latest fact sheet on response and recovery efforts.

Click on the image view USAID’s latest fact sheet on response and recovery efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Click on the map to view areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

 

 

Video of the Week: Adapting to Melting Glaciers: A Partnership Approach

Through the USAID-supported High Mountain Partnership (HiMAP), Peru and Nepal are addressing the impacts and risks of rapidly melting glaciers in high mountain areas. The HiMAP brings scientists, governments officials, and local people together to share lessons learned on managing high-risk, high-impact floods caused by rapidly melting glaciers.

Learn more about USAID’s work in climate change and promotion of development based on climate-smart planning and clean technologies.

Harnessing S&T for Global Development

This originally appeared on the White House Blog

Recently, I interviewed Dr. Andrew Sisson, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director in Indonesia, who is leveraging science and technology (S&T) and innovation to help tackle development challenges in Indonesia.

Why is USAID focusing on S&T and innovation in Indonesia? What are some of the economic and societal challenges that S&T can help address?

Science, technology, and innovation have the potential to solve important global development problems. S&T can help communities and governments control the impact and spread of infectious diseases; protect marine environments; strengthen resilience to natural disasters and climate change; and much more. In just one example, we are working with the Indonesia National Tuberculosis Program (NTP) to test a new, simple and rapid tuberculosis (TB) diagnostic called GeneXpert. The goal of this technology is to increase the rapid detection and treatment of TB in HIV patients. The results of pilot testing in 17 locations across Indonesia will be published soon and, with support from the Global Fund and TB REACH, the Indonesia NTP has already expanded  use of the new diagnostic to private-sector hospitals.

Indonesia Laboratory technical at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung (West Java) performs multi-drug resistant TB tests using GeneXpert as part of a pilot project supported by USAID. Photo credit: Roni Chandra

Indonesia Laboratory technical at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung (West Java) performs multi-drug resistant TB tests using GeneXpert as part of a pilot project supported by USAID. Photo credit: Roni Chandra

What is the mission’s strategy around S&T over the next few years?

USAID is partnering with the Government of Indonesia to use new and innovative approaches to achieve Indonesia-specific development goals. We’ve also decided together to focus part of our investment on developing components of Indonesia’s “scientific ecosystem,” including by developing merit-based research systems and strengthening the scientific evidence-to-policymaking cycle. Our joint work also includes scholarship opportunities, joint research between Indonesian and American scientists, and private-sector partnerships to adopt advanced technologies for development goals.

What are some opportunities to strengthen collaboration between Indonesian and American scientists?

Indonesia and the United States have many overlapping scientific interests: climate change, marine conservation, healthcare diagnostics, renewable energy, disaster risk reduction, and more. And so we’d like to open more doors for scientific collaborations to take root in these areas. The State Department has established an official dialogue with Indonesia on making scientific exchanges a top priority. But, it can’t only be a government-to-government effort. For scientific collaboration to flourish we’ve got to place it in the hands of our top scientists and students – and so networking among students and universities in both countries has also been a promising area of partnership.

Can you give an example of an individual or project that exemplifies USAID and Indonesia’s collaborative work in S&T?

What’s been incredible to see is how quickly an international network of scientists can come together to create something big when given the opportunity. One great example is the broad network for biodiversity research that has been created by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Udayana University in Bali, and the State University of Papua through the support of USAID and the National Science Foundation. Some of the researchers that are part of this network converge at the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center – a facility in Indonesia where American and Indonesian students come together every summer to get trained in the latest genetic techniques for applications in marine biodiversity and conservation.

What advice do you have for other USAID Missions that are interested in elevating S&T efforts?

We’re still on the early part of the curve so there is a lot to learn, but we’re eager to share as we move forward. What’s been very important in our strategy development are the ongoing conversations and consultations with Indonesian counterparts who are helping define what areas of science and technology we can work on together. For this to be a successful and sustainable part of the U.S.-Indonesia long-term relationship means that Indonesia will be an equal partner each step of the way, as a collaborator and co-investor – and I believe we are making good progress down that path together.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP

A Tale of Two Cyclones

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

In October 1999, a massive cyclone slammed into the eastern coast of India, killing at least 10,000 people. A few weeks ago, a very similar cyclone, Phailin, struck the same region. The news coverage ahead of Phailin painted a frightening picture of a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina poised to wreak havoc on India and potentially repeat the grim toll of the 1999 storm. Yet when all was said and done, Phailin resulted in around 50 fatalities–just a fraction of what was feared. This reduction in fatality levels from the tens of thousands down to the tens is no accident–it is a powerful example of how good disaster risk reduction efforts can save lives on a massive scale.

Media reports since this storm have noted the intense effort by the Indian government to mitigate the threat Phailin posed–from giving storm warnings days in advance to evacuating close to 1 million citizens out of harm’s way. But the untold story behind those headlines is how a U.S. Government partnership helped India to develop that capacity.

Over the past 15 years, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, which I lead, has been working with the Indian government to help strengthen its ability to prepare for and respond to disasters. USAID has helped train thousands of Indian emergency personnel, civil servants, and officials. The Agency invited Indian colleagues to tour its Operations Center in Washington, D.C., and learn about the Incident Command System (ICS), the U.S. Government’s own framework for disaster response management. With USAID’s assistance, the Government of India adapted the ICS for its own emergency response system. USAID has also supported collaboration between Indian and American meteorologists, which has strengthened the forecasting and early warning that proved so critical earlier this month.

USAID also supports a project to increase first responder capacity in India called the Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response (PEER). PEER offers trainings in areas such as medical first response, urban search and rescue, and hospital preparedness; it was so well-received that India’s National Disaster Response Force has adopted the training curriculum for its own battalions. Many of those same battalions helped lead the response to Phailin.

While much now remains to be done to help bring relief and recovery to those affected by the storm, Cyclone Phailin has shown India’s ability to address a major disaster using its own disaster management institutions. The Indian government deserves enormous credit for its investment in these systems, and the U.S. can take pride in knowing that our investment in this partnership with India has now paid off in a big way.

Learn more about USAID’s disaster assistance to India in the recent release of Pounds of Prevention: Focus on India

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on India

Assistance in India after two cyclones hit the regionIn October 1999, two cyclones hit the eastern coast of India, and the impact was devastating with nearly 10,000 lives lost. This October, another strong cyclone, Phailin, hit the country and the death toll has been reported at about 50. In this installment of USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series, we explore what happened in the intervening years to bring about such a different result to two seemingly similar events and how USAID played a key role.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Today, we are faced with great challenges brought about by increasing population and urbanization, a changing climate, and a demonstrated increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters. To continue to tackle these challenges, what has become clear is this: We need more than an ounce of prevention; we need pounds of prevention!

Photo is courtesy of the National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal.

A New App Puts Tariff Codes at Traders’ Fingertips

Smartphone enthusiasts can find just about anything on the app store to entertain, connect with friends and learn new things that make our lives more enjoyable and productive. And this month, a new app is out that will make it easier for traders to do business in Vietnam.

Most of us have never had to look up an HS Code.  But there is one for just about every item used in daily life. Your coffee cup, your pen, your office furniture — maybe even what you had for lunch — all have a code in the Harmonized System (HS).

A woman tries the STAR Plus app. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam

A woman tries the STAR Plus app. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam

These internationally standardized classification codes cover 5,300 articles or commodities organized under headings and subheadings, arranged in 99 chapters, and grouped in 21 sections. Sound overwhelming? It can be. Because HS codes inform tariff rates, choosing the correct one is not only required by international law, but it can mean the difference between competitive or noncompetitive margins of cost for entrepreneurs who move goods across borders. Not long ago, HS classification information was hard to find and hard to navigate. Misclassification of HS codes is a common complaint of businesses in Vietnam. But now, thanks to our USAID STAR Plus Program, there’s an app for that.

The new Mã HS Việt Nam app, developed by USAID STAR Plus and available for free on iTunes, links traders directly to the Vietnam Customs website and places HS Code data at the fingertips of importers and exporters with iPhones or iPads. If and when Vietnam successfully joins the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, having easily accessible HS Codes with new tariff rate data will be very advantageous.

The Mã HS Vietnam app is just one example of the innovation and adaptability of our program in Vietnam. USAIDSTAR Plus and its predecessor projects date back to 2001 and are credited with helping Vietnam implement a Bilateral Trade Agreement with the United States and accede to the World Trade Organization — two achievements acknowledged by many to be the foundation of Vietnam’s dramatic economic rise from developing to middle-income country status in less than a decade. The secret to USAID STAR’s success has been agility of program design combined with responsiveness, particularly to long-standing relationships of trust and mutual interest established over time with the people and Government of Vietnam.

Working successfully with Vietnam’s General Department of Customs to streamline processes, create business-to-government partnerships and align operations to international best practices in trade compliance are just a few of the project’s contributions. Similar progress is evident through other counterpart relationships, such as work with the National Assembly and the State Audit of Vietnam. Rule of law, banking and finance, fiscal transparency, and civic participation are all areas improved during the USAID STAR Plus era of informed cooperation. By remaining committed to innovation and adaptability the U.S.-Vietnam partnership will continue to achieve more inclusive, sustainable, and transformative growth long into the future.

Download and try out the Ma HS Vietnam app.

Learn more about what USAID is doing in the area of mobile solutions

Strengthening Earthquake Response Efforts Across Asia

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) enhanced its partnership with the China Earthquake Administration (CEA) in late September, signing a Letter of Coordination that formalized efforts to strengthen collaboration on future disaster responses.

As one of his first official duties as the new USAID/OFDA Director, Jeremy Konyndyk signed a Letter of Coordination with CEA Administrator Chen Jianmin. Photo credit: USAID

As one of his first official duties as the new USAID/OFDA Director, Jeremy Konyndyk signed a Letter of Coordination with CEA Administrator Chen Jianmin. Photo credit: USAID

The agreement represents an important commitment by both USAID/OFDA and the CEA to bolster cooperation in the field of earthquake preparedness and response, urban search-and-rescue and other humanitarian issues. Partnerships like this best illustrate how donor governments can join forces for the greater benefit of those most in need, sharing the responsibility of helping other countries in the wake of a humanitarian emergency.

Asia remains one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, with earthquakes and tsunamis affecting tens of thousands of people each year. China is especially vulnerable, being susceptible to the most deadly earthquakes ever recorded. By strategically combining resources and expertise, USAID/OFDA and the CEA will be able to improve coordination on earthquake responses across Asia—ultimately saving more lives and reducing the economic and social impact of future disasters.

“It is great to take this next step and further strengthen our relationship, as we together continue to invest in disaster preparation and mitigation activities in Asia,” said USAID/OFDA Director Jeremy Konyndyk.

Learn more about USAID’s responses to crises around the world

Learn more about USAID’s work in China

Smarter, Healthier, Wealthier – Helping Rural Cambodians Live Better Lives

HARVEST teaches efficient rice planting techniques that help Cambodian farmers increase their yields.  Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

HARVEST teaches efficient rice planting techniques that help Cambodian farmers increase their yields. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Soon after I arrived in Cambodia, I made a trip to see a few of the activities that USAID supports to improve the lives of rural Cambodians. Agriculture — especially rice — is of huge importance to Cambodia and I was able to see how our support is helping farmers become more successful by introducing new techniques. I also saw how our funds are improving Cambodian children’s education by strengthening school facilities and increasing their knowledge about nutrition.

Rebecca Black (second from right) learns how HARVEST is helping increase rural incomes by building skills like basket weaving. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Rebecca Black (second from right) learns how HARVEST is helping increase rural incomes by building skills like basket weaving. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Not far from Cambodia’s most famous landmark, Angkor Wat, farmers in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces are learning about better, more efficient ways to raise fish and grow crops and vegetables. In addition to the training and supplies they receive through our food security program, USAID HARVEST, rural families are also eating better as a result of the nutritional information provided by HARVEST’s trainers. The bottom line is that their production is allowing farmers to earn more income and provide their families with a more diverse and nutritional food basket. Greg Beck, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Asia Bureau, saw this when he enjoyed personal interaction with one such farmer during his visit this year. Read about his reflections on his Cambodia visit here.

School kids in Kampong Thom learn about the importance of sanitation and have access to clean water at school through USAID’s support. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

School kids in Kampong Thom learn about the importance of sanitation and have access to clean water at school through USAID’s support. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Nutrition is a very important priority for me and my team, as it continues to be one of Cambodia’s main development challenges. Studies show that too many Cambodians suffer from malnutrition. That’s why USAID’s program (Improving Basic Education in Cambodia) not only focuses on the classroom, but in the vegetable garden, too. In addition to providing computer labs, the project also teaches students about nutrition, water and sanitation by teaching them to install and maintain a vegetable garden. They also learn about the importance of protein and how important fish is to their protein requirements. These valuable nutritional resources will help school children eat right, grow strong and eventually join Cambodia’s growing workforce.

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Andrew Hoell on Dryness Conditions in East Africa

This blog is part of an interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

When did you first become interested in climate research?

New England snow storms sparked my interest in weather at a young age. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of Massachusetts to study Meteorology. During my second year as an undergraduate, I became interested in how weather patterns behaved over the entire globe on longer timescales, climate time scales. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts and worked on projects that linked Central Asia climate to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. The regional atmospheric circulations of Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa are intertwined, so those are now my regions of focus.

Can you talk a little bit about how UC Santa Barbara and FEWS NET work together to explain the broader concept of food security?

I can only speak to the climate side at UC Santa Barbara. At UC Santa Barbara, we’re interested in how rainfall has recently changed over East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and what climate features have forced those changes. We take the lessons that we’ve learned from the recent changes and we draw conclusions about how the climate will change in the future.

When you first began researching climatic weather patterns in the Western Pacific Ocean, did you have any idea that your work would help guide future international development decision making?

I’ve been researching the links between the tropical western Pacific Ocean and the global climate since about 2006, my first year of graduate school. Initially, graduate students, including me, are usually focused on learning or pleasing their advisor. In 2008, I met Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group at UCSB, and we collaborated on a paper that investigated the links between the Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures and East African climate and how those links influence food security. This was the first time I considered that my work might guide international development and decision making.

What was the motivation for writing about drying conditions in the East Africa Horn? What did you and your team seek to explain?

Our overarching goal is to understand how climate variability influences East Africa. This paper is a very brief review that links recent changes in East African climate (since the late 1990s) to an abrupt warming in west Pacific sea surface temperatures. The video below explains more.

What sorts of technology and techniques did you use in this study?

In the beginning of our study, we show how the climate from 1999 until recently has behaved in terms of East African rainfall and tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures. From this, we were able to show that (at least) superficially that East Africa rainfall and tropical Indo-west Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures could be related.

In the second part of our study, we use an atmospheric model forced by observed sea surface temperatures to confirm that west Pacific sea surface temperature changes were influencing East African rainfall. The study can be found here (Article 15).

What’s next for you and your team? How will you continue to work with FEWS NET to explain climate patterns and its effects on food security?

Our team will continue to investigate what factors influence climate variability over East Africa, the Middle East (specifically Yemen) and Central Asia. We focus on a wide variety of time scales, from individual seasons to multiple decades. We are most concerned with changes on decadal time scales because they are most important to long-term food and water security. However, our understanding of climate variability for individual seasons is also very important because it is this climate variability that primarily forces short-term droughts and famines (e.g. 2010/2011 over East Africa).

Interested in learning more about one of USAID’s programs or want to hear from one of USAID’s leaders? We want to know! Please provide your suggestions below.

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