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Saving Lives at Birth Innovator Named CNN Hero of the Year

In March, one of Saving Lives at Birth’s innovators, Dr. Laura Stachel of We Care Solar, was named a CNN Hero of the Year.

On her first trip to Nigeria in 2008, Dr. Laura Stachel saw firsthand the power of light.

“I realized that my skills as an obstetrician-gynecologist were utterly useless (without) something as basic as light and electricity,” Stachel said.

Midwife in Samaru Clinic using typical kerosene lighting. Photo credit: We Care Solar

Countless numbers of pregnant women would arrive at the local clinic with severe complications. Without adequate light, these women often had to wait until sunrise to be treated or undergo risky procedures by kerosene lantern, candlelight, or even cell phones. Lives of mothers and babies were even more at risk because there was no electricity.

Moved by this experience, Dr. Stachel, with the help of her husband, a solar energy educator, developed a suitcase-sized off-grid solar electric  unit. This “solar suitcase”  is an a simple, economical  technology that provides a sustainable source of power, allowing health workers to provide life-saving interventions 24 hours a day.

So far, We Care Solar has provided nearly 250 solar suitcases to facilities in more than 20 countries. They’re being used in main hospitals as backup systems and in rural clinics as a primary source of electricity.

Through a Saving Lives at Birth transition-to-scale grant, We Care Solar is partnering with AMREF Uganda to ensure 200 health centers can deliver life-saving procedures 24 hours a day. Saving Lives at Birth – a partnership among USAID, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and DFID – seeks to identify and develop the tools and approaches needed to help  mothers and newborns during their most vulnerable hours. In Uganda, an estimated 6,000 women and 35,000 infants die from childbirth related complications each year. This innovative suitcase provides solar power for a fetal Doppler to detect fetal well-being, phone charging to enhance patient referrals, and a computer to for data entry in the electronic Health Management Information system.

The solar suitcase “empowers health workers to provide better care 24 hours a day,” Stachel says. “It motivates staff. It increases demand for skilled care and it saves lives.” And the impact has been proven. In its first year, the Nigerian clinic reported that the death rate for women had decreased 70%. Nurses could see what they were doing and they had power for equipment and procedures. Women received  blood transfusions because the electricity provided power for a blood bank refrigerator. This is the power of light.

Mapping Lebanon

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Grace Abou-Jaoude Estephan, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the Lebanese American University.

Your work entails putting together a hazard map of Lebanon for earthquake-induced landslides. Why is this work important?

Grace Abou-Jaoude Estephan, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the Lebanese American University. Photo credit: Grace Abou-Jaoude

Lebanon is a country that is located in a relatively active seismic zone. Its rugged topography makes it vulnerable to earthquake and landslide hazards. Astonishingly, records from 303AD describe the destruction of houses, cities, and monuments. Although Lebanon has not experienced any major earthquake since 1956, the recent discovery of an active thrusting fault close to its coastline has significantly raised its risk of being hit by a high magnitude earthquake. Unfortunately, no effort has been done to assess the impact of a seismic event on the risks of triggering landslide hazards in the country.

The goal of my project is to produce an earthquake-induced landslide hazard map of Lebanon that clearly shows the critical areas prone to earthquake-induced landslides. The map will be used as a reference for anyone concerned with public safety, urban planning, and disaster management.

Describe your own career path – how did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

Science and math were the main topics that interested me during my school years. There was one particular female math teacher who highly influenced my interest in mathematics through her teaching style and devotion to her mission. I knew I wanted to become a civil engineer help design and construct the amazing structures I’d long admired.

After receiving my Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering (with distinction) from the American University of Beirut in 2001, I worked at one of the largest consulting companies in Lebanon. I found myself eager to learn more about design, construction, and geology. I pursued my graduate studies in geotechnical engineering at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana in 2002, where I obtained an M.S. and Ph.D in Civil Engineering from there in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

I returned to Lebanon in 2007 and took a faculty position at the Lebanese American University (LAU), in Byblos, where I have been an assistant professor since 2007. Today, I’m a registered member of the Order of Engineers in Lebanon, an associate member of the American Society of Civil Engineering, and a member of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering.

Why do you think it is important for women across the world to be involved in science?

Women across the world have a great potential to excel in science and there are many examples of the contributions females have made to science throughout history. Women have surely faced many obstacles and barriers along the way, but that never discouraged the female achievers from reaching their goals. I believe it is very important to maintain constant support and provide encouragement to female students interested in pursuing careers in science and engineering.

Cultural expectations and social restrictions on women, combined with outdated stereotypes of women’s roles and abilities, often dissuade girls from considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as professional options. Challenges of combining responsibilities for a household and family with a professional career also present a major constraint. Women who keep challenging these long-held stereotypes by holding careers in fields of science and technology are vital to encourage the new generation of female students to be involved in fields of science and engineering.

 

USAID in the News

This week USAID was featured in the Sudan Tribune for the announcement following World Water Day that ” it is committed to increase the number of South Sudanesewho have access to clean water and sanitation.” At present, “only 34% of South Sudanese have access to clean water according to statistics from South Sudan’s ministry of water resources and irrigation, leading to various dangerous diseases such as diarrhea that can lead to death, especially among vulnerable groups.”

Deputy Administrator Steinberg speaks in Bangladesh. Photo Credit: USAID/Bangladesh

Deputy Administrator of USAID Donald Steinberg is traveling this week on a three-day visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh. During that time, he launched USAID’s new environment conservation initiative, the Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL) project, a five-year $35 million program to involve local communities in the management of key ecosystems and develop alternative livelihoods for them to reduce dependence on protected area resources. He will also “meet government officials, including the ministers for agriculture and Environment and Forests to further the partnership between the US and Bangladesh through development assistance, with a particular focus on climate change and gender,” Financial Express reports.

In its “India Ink” blog, the New York Times interviewed USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah on “his recent trip to Mumbai about transformations in the development sector, the function of the private sector in development work and the aid agency’s new programs and partnerships aimed at reducing preventable child deaths.” During the Q&A session, Dr. Shah explained among other things that now, the agency is focused “on using our India mission as a development innovation laboratory to try and find those partners in the private sector, scientists and entrepreneurs who are creating great new solutions for development and then helping them apply those solutions here in India but also elsewhere in the world.”

Young Albanian Women Set Sights on IT

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

“We weren’t aware of how huge the event actually was until the day of the competition. When I saw the people and how important it was, the energy was overwhelming and I knew this was something I wanted to do again and again,” explained 20 year old, Egi Shijaku, about her experience at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15.

Egi Shijaku at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15. Photo credit: USAID

USAID was one of the main organizers of the 2013 Microsoft Imagine Cup which brought together 15 university-level teams to present their IT projects to judges. After the competition, USAID’s enterprise development project is providing technical assistance to the 2013 winners to help them commercialize their winning ideas. In addition, qualified businesses and organizations are eligible for a grant of up to $20,000 to introduce business technologies or innovations.

Shikaju was part of a three person team from Epoka University who competed in this year’s competition of innovative software applications. Her team submitted a mobile software application that allows users to upload photos and GPS data of garbage and waste in order to notify local government authorities responsible for clean-up.

“Garbage collection is really a problem that worries us all. Tirana and all the cities in Albania have the problem of waste that isn’t thrown in the right places and at times is thrown in public spaces.”

According to Shikaju, the key was to build something that was user-friendly and beneficial. Her mobile solution makes it easier for local authorities to monitor environmental hotspots and gives citizens the option to simply click and report. Just knowing how easy it is to report would serve as a deterrent.

While her team placed seventh this year, Shikaju is already thinking about next year’s competition and will participate in “Start-Up Week” in April. As a second year student studying Business Informatics, a new degree program which combines Computer Science and Economics, her future in IT, and that of many young girls like her, looks bright.

“I see business informatics, computer science, IT being a trend in Albania for young girls,” said Shikaju. There are currently 23 students in the program, half of whom are women.

“Right now there are a lot of systems being developed in Albania,” explained Shikaju.  “All the systems in the government are being transferred to computers. Businesses are looking for ways to transfer their business to the Cloud, so that is a sphere as well. I am always surprised with how huge this market is even as small as a country like Albania.”

The main impediment to growth of the IT sector, particularly programming and developing software, is lack of qualified applicants. As Albania’s IT sector expands, young women like Shikaju are jumping at the opportunity to get involved.  Shikaju said she surprised how in interviews with people, particularly after the Imagine Cup, there is significant interest in her, not because of her gender, but because of what programming language she knows.

Paying It Forward – How Education Can Create a Better Environment for Future Generations

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with  Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, Professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.

Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, is a professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at Asian Institute of Technology. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

How would you describe your work on emissions impact to an audience unfamiliar with this field? Why is this work important?

My research focuses on air pollution and its effects on public health, crops, and climate. Air pollutants are released from a variety of sources – stoves, indoor heating, vehicles, and heavy industry.  Outdoor fires such as burning of household trash or agricultural wastes in the field, like rice straw, also contribute. These pollutants directly affect our health. They may also be toxic to food crops, affecting the availability and price of the food we eat.

Some small sources of pollution can actually be quite significant. For example, smoke from indoor cooking and heating contains many toxic pollutants, including fine particles, gases such as carbon monoxide, and many carcinogens. Women and young children, who often stay indoors, have a higher chance of contracting respiratory diseases due to inhalation exposure.

Cleaner cooking stoves emit less smoke and have more effective ways to vent the dirty smoke out of kitchen than traditional cooking methods. Many governmental and non-governmental organizations are now working to produce and distribute cleaner and more effective cookstoves throughout the world.

Describe your career path – how did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I am grateful to my mother.  Although she did not get a chance to attend school formally, she understood the value of education, and always encouraged her children to study. She believed that with education we would have a better life. That has certainly been true for me and my siblings.

Prof. Kim Oanh training her students in a modeling class. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

I received my first engineering degree in meteorology from Odessa Hydrometeorology University, Ukraine.  After that, I came back to Vietnam and became a lecturer at Hanoi University. I was given scholarships to pursue my Master’s and PhD in Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), which presented a great opportunity for me to further advance my scientific training.

Now, as a professor at AIT, I enjoy educating young people about environmental research and encouraging them to use their knowledge to work for a better environment for us and for future generations. I particularly try to encourage female students to be confident, and to believe that, with dedication and hard work, they can excel in their research. Women have just as much potential to achieve scientific success as men.

The Transformational Power of Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Christa Hasenkopf, NSF International Research Fellow, affiliated with National University of Mongolia and University of Colorado.

Can you describe your work and why it’s important?

I have been conducting research on air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which has some of the highest measured pollution levels in the world. Nearly half of Mongolia’s population lives in Ulaanbaatar, and over half of that city’s population of 1.3 million lives in the ger district, which is a mixture of traditional felt tent housing, as well as wooden homes. The ger district is not connected to the city’s central heating system, so residents must use other methods, such as coal-fired stoves, to keep warm through the long Mongolian winter.

Christa Hasenkopf (third from left) with PEER group at an air quality monitoring station in Ulaanbaatar in 2012. Photo credit: Christa Hasenkopf

Ulaanbaatar’s position in a valley, as well as certain meteorological conditions, trap smoke from these stoves (and from coal-fired power plants) near the surface of the city. In the ger district, daily wintertime smoke levels get so bad that it rivals the conditions firefighters experience fighting a wildfire! Consequently, the pollution has catastrophic human impacts: it’s estimated that 10-25% of deaths in Ulaanbaatar over a given year are pollution-related. Pollution in Ulaanbaatar costs the country over 500 million USD per year.

There have been many different efforts to mitigate the pollution, but there is not a strong, sustained long-term program to evaluate their effectiveness and share results broadly with the public. With support from USAID’s PEER Program and the NSF’s International Research Program, I have been collaborating with Professor Lodoysamba, my Mongolian research partner, to identify the sources of the pollution, and monitor changes over time.

We are also working to spur public engagement on this critical issue. We have launched a Facebook page and Twitter account to share air quality infographics, current data, and opportunities to get involved with air quality issues in Ulaanbaatar.

Describe your own career path – How did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I fell in love with science, specifically astronomy, when I was a child. I adored books by Carl Sagan, and how he connected big picture topics like the Universe with the activities of tiny humans residing on a speck of dust orbiting a run-of-the-mill ball of gas. During my career, I have studied objects outside of our galaxy, then moved to worlds within our solar system, and now work to better understand issues affecting the atmosphere – and the humans existing in it – here on Earth.

The biggest obstacles I have faced are a lack of self-confidence in my ability and fear of standing out too much. Throughout high school and my undergraduate studies, I would be too afraid to ask a question in class or to speak up with my own ideas. Those sorts of fears keep you from truly learning and engaging with others, which are vital for becoming an expert at anything! These fears can also affect how high you set the bar for your career goals.

Where do science and development intersect?

Science has been transformative for the human condition. For example, in 1850, 25 out of 100 American babies died at birth. As the medical community developed a better understanding of how germs spread, it instituted simple interventions, like hand washing and instrument sterilization, and infant mortality rates plummeted. Today, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is less than 1 in 100, and the world average is around 4 in 100. We have scientific progress to thank for that.

And yet, such a small percentage of the world’s population has the opportunity to pursue a career in science. A 2010 UNESCO study reports that 75% of peer-reviewed scientific papers – the primary vehicle through which science moves forward – are done by those in developed countries, which only represents 20% of the world’s population.

Eighty percent of the world’s population – those in developing countries – experience major barriers to contributing to the scientific community. We’re missing out on a ton of brainpower to help solve some big problems like the inter-related issues of climate change, energy production, and population growth that will require scientific and technical solutions. That’s not just a loss for the developing world, that’s a loss for the entire world.

African Nations Lead the Way on Country-owned Development

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog.

Forty years ago, Africa was exporting food. Today, it is a net food importer. But there’s no reason African countries can’t achieve greater growth in the agriculture sector to lift their people out of poverty and contribute to global food security.

By 2050, it is projected that we’ll need to increase food production by up to 60 percent to meet the growing world population’s demand for food. And we’ll have to do so with less water and potentially less land than we have now. Enter Africa—with 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, largely farming-based economies, and vast natural resource endowments, Africa has the potential to feed not only itself, but the world.

Progress in the most impoverished parts of our world creates food stability and new markets. Photo credit: USAID

In 2003, African nations came together under a common vision to increase Africa’s growth, development, and participation in the global economy through agriculture-led development. The African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program was born out of this vision—a program aimed at improving economic growth and food security by addressing key policy and capacity issues affecting the agricultural sector and by increasing government spending on agriculture by 10 percent and agricultural productivity by six percent in each country. CAADP, as it is called, would reverse underinvestment in agriculture and put Africa on a new course toward sustainable development and a greater role in the global economy.

The world followed suit in 2009, urged on by food price spikes in 2007 and 2008 that threatened global gains in poverty reduction. Recognizing the urgency of food security, G8 leaders, led by U.S. President Barack Obama, committed to increasing investments in agriculture, which had steadily dropped in past years.

What followed was a new way of doing development, driven by countries themselves rather than donors, and embodied in the Rome Principles for Sustainable Development. CAADP itself is a country-led and country-owned process. Donor commitments, such as ours, follow the lead of African countries and the priorities they’ve set for achieving their own agricultural development and food security.

So far, more than 20 countries in Africa have developed country-owned investment plans that involve not just government ministries but a broad collection of local stakeholders including the private sector and civil society. One of the tremendous innovations of CAADP, as a regional platform, is the process of peer review of these plans, encouraging learning across the continent that ultimately improves the quality of the plans.

We’ve seen tremendous advances in the way development is being done through CAADP, such that other regions outside of Africa have taken up the process. And we’re thrilled to have been a part of a broader donor network supporting the growth of CAADP and building our own plans for investment around strategic priorities outlined by the countries, both through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative and the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The sustainability of our programs depends on having country ownership so we’ve built our approach to food security in Africa around CAADP.

This week, I traveled to Ethiopia for the annual CAADP Partnership Platform meeting. This year’s meeting emphasized a number of the themes we stressed last year in the New Alliance: policy actions to stimulate greater private investment in agriculture and mutual accountability for results. [continued]

Read the rest of this post.

 

WWE Divas Help Refugees in Rwanda Fight Malaria

It’s one thing to hear about a scary, serious global health problem like malaria on TV or in the news. It’s not a disease that we have much experience with anymore in the United States.

But for millions of families around the world, malaria is a real threat. It’s hard to believe that today, a child still dies every minute from this completely preventable disease. Countless mothers put their babies to bed at night and worry: Will my little girl be bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito? How can I keep her safe? We met some of these mothers and listened to their stories on our recent trip to Rwanda with the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign.

WWE Divas Alicia Fox and Natalya Fox during their visit to Rwanda. They helped distribute bed nets to mothers and families, and visited health clinics and youth centers at the camps. Photo credit: Craig Ambrosio, WWE

Connecting with refugee women, who have so little, yet still have big hopes and dreams for their children, was indescribable. We’ll never forget their faces, their tiny mud homes with roofs made of plastic sheets, the hardships they face, the violence they’ve experienced. We’ll never forget joining them in dance, in song, exchanging hugs. We’ll never forget their beauty, and their dignity.

The United Nations Commission for Refugees does an amazing job providing these refugees safety and shelter. But the reality is, as more refugees flee fighting in Democratic Republic of the Congo—and war zones worldwide—there are never enough resources to go around. That’s why we came to Rwanda with Nothing But Nets to help, handing out bed nets to the pregnant women and young children most vulnerable to malaria.

A bed net won’t solve all refugees’ problems. But it is a simple, cheap way to keep these families safe from malaria as they sleep. After all they’ve been through, a life-saving net seems like the least we can do to make a real difference. We learned how the U.S. has been a global leader in fighting malaria, and that deaths from the disease are dropping. Everyone can help keep that momentum going! Our partner Nothing But Nets showed us how easy it is for anyone to save a life. We’re proud WWE is part of the fight against malaria, and we want to urge everyone—our fans, our friends, you—to send a net and save a life. Giving changed our lives. It’ll change yours, too.

Natalya and Alicia Fox are WWE Divas. WWE is a partner of the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign. Learn more at NothingButNets.net.

Sarah Mendelson Featured on #AskUSAID Expert Hour Series on Twitter

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Last Friday (March 22), Sarah Mendelson, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, participated in our #AskUSAID Twitter Expert Hour Chat on the topic of human trafficking.

Sarah answered questions on the topics of: technology’s role in human trafficking, engaging college students and harnessing their passion for technology in the fight against trafficking, and USAID’s work in preventing trafficking and protecting victims. On the same day, USAID announced the winners of the Campus Challenge to Combat Human Trafficking technology contest.

Check out this Storify feed to see highlights of the Expert Hour.

#AskUSAID Expert Hour will be held on a monthly basis on Twitter, and anyone interested in international development is invited to ask our assistant administrators, and others, about our work in various regions and current projects and programs.

Follow USAID on Twitter (@USAID) to join the next Expert Hour chat! Have a question for us? Use the hashtag #AskUSAID.

Aid to Internally Displaced Persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Nearly two decades of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo(DRC) between government forces and armed groups have forced millions of people to flee their homes countrywide. Over the past year, humanitarian conditions have continued to worsen due to escalating violence that has displaced even more communities and renewed safety and security concerns. Tensions and large-scale displacement have affected the southeastern Katanga and North Kivu provinces especially hard in recent months. In Katanga, the U.N. recorded a more than five-fold increase of internally displaced persons (IDPs) over the past year, from approximately 55,000 IDPs in January 2012 to more than 358,000 in December 2012. To make matters worse, people in Katanga are facing the worst cholera epidemic in the area since 2007.

In addition to increased displacement, Katanga Province is experiencing the worst cholera epidemic since 2007. An estimated 5,000 new cases have been reported since January 2013 with more than 150 related deaths. Photo credit: UNICEF

USAID has responded to urgent needs by airlifting more than $270,000 worth of emergency relief supplies, such as blankets, kitchen utensils, water containers, and plastic sheeting. These commodities were transported from USAID’s warehouse in Dubai and flown to Katanga Province on March 11 to be distributed by UNICEF and other partners on the ground. The plastic sheeting will be used to help families build latrines, while the water containers will make gathering drinking water easier. Ensuring people have an adequate supply of safe drinking water will help mitigate the spread of cholera.

More than 12,000 water containers, 3,000 blankets and 1,000 kitchen sets were airlifted to Katanga Province in DRC from USAID’s stockpiles in Dubai, The United Arab Emirates (UAE). Photo credit: UNICEF

“The delivery of this equipment now allows us to support UNICEF in pursuit of a common goal: to help the most vulnerable populations and disaster victims, especially children affected by the conflict,” said Jay Nash, Senior Humanitarian Advisor for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in DRC.

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