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Archives for Innovation

From Lab to Communities: Pioneering Low-Cost Approaches to Prevent Death and Treat Severe Illness

The third installment of the 2010 Health Research Report to Congress is newborn health. Today, we look at USAID’s seminal role in working to focus global attention on the issue of newborn survival as well as its investments in establishing the research foundation for action in this area.

USAID works to accelerate innovations through the complete development cycle — out of the labs and through a massive scale-up, into the communities to directly benefit the world’s poor. Our goal is to develop ways to save more lives and reduce the burden of diseases as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Of the estimated 8.8 million children under 5 that die each year – 3.7 million are newborn infants who die within the first four weeks after birth. Up to two-thirds of these deaths can be prevented through existing effective interventions delivered during pregnancy, childbirth and in the first hours, days and week after birth. USAID develops and tests simple, low-cost approaches with the greatest potential to prevent death and treat severe illness in low-resource settings with limited access to quality facility-based care.

An Afghan nurse checks a crying newborn boy who was born that morning in the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul on March 15, 2010. Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with an estimated 1,800 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.  Photo Credit: AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI

A growing body of knowledge has shown that home visits by appropriately trained workers to provide newborn care can significantly reduce neonatal mortality even where health systems are weak. Building on an evidence review, WHO/UNICEF released recommendations in 2009 providing new guidance on the importance of home visits in a baby’s first week of life. USAID is promoting and supporting partner country adoption of these recommendations into national programs, encouraging further investment in this area and assisting with capacity building efforts for health care providers and community cadres providing home-based care.

In countries with high mortality rates and weak health systems, high impact community-based approaches such as diagnosis and treatment of child pneumonia and newborn sepsis must be as accessible when it is needed to the people who stand to benefit the most. Approximately one-third of newborn deaths can be attributed to infections caused by birth in unhygienic conditions. A multi-country trial supported by USAID, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Save the Children/Saving Newborn Lives program; and WHO, is researching different combinations of oral and intramuscular antibiotic regimens for simplified treatment of newborn sepsis in the community.

Each year, 10 million babies suffer from birth asphyxia; 10 percent of these newborns do not survive. USAID has supported the development and validation of newborn resuscitation training materials and devices used to develop the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) training curriculum. The Helping Babies Breathe Global Development Alliance (GDA), a public-private partnership launched by USAID along with several partners, is introducing HBB in multiple countries and offers evidence-based training and technical support on newborn resuscitation and high quality, affordable resuscitation devices to birth attendants in low-resource settings.

USAID is also supporting studies looking at the prevention and treatment of neonatal infections through the application of antiseptic to the newborn cord in parallel with research efforts to determine optimal product packaging; the effectiveness of low-cost resuscitation devices in treating birth asphyxia; and strategies to manage care for low-birth weight children including kangaroo mother care or skin-to-skin care.

A recent article in the Lancet noted USAID’s seminal role in working to focus global attention on the issue of newborn survival as well as its investments in establishing the research foundation for action in this area. Under the President’s Global Health Initiative, USAID will expand investments in game-changing innovation through promotion of research and development. Expanding these programs will mean providing easier access at a single location for a broader set of medical and health interventions. It means focusing more clearly and getting the full package of basic health services out to those people who are most vulnerable because they lack access to any protective care at all.

 

2010: A Year in Review

With 2011 on the horizon, USAID looks at back at its accomplishments in 2010. Among them:

  • Supported the game-changing CAPRISA study, which in July provided the first ever proof of concept that a vaginal microbicide could safely and effectively reduce the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV from men to vulnerable women. Science Magazine recently named the CAPRISA study one of the top ten breakthroughs of 2010.
  • Piloted a groundbreaking mobile banking technology to increase Haitians’ access to much-needed financial resources following January’s devastating earthquake.
  • Provided shelter, food and medical supplies for the more than 20 million people affected by the floods in Pakistan this summer.
  • Assumed leadership of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s signature food security initiative, in December. USAID quickly established the Bureau for Food Security committed to addressing chronic hunger.
  • Announced the first recipients of Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) funds that will, among other outcomes, improve rural solar access and produce affordable, fuel-cell powered bicycles. The DIV promotes innovative and scalable solutions to core development challenges.
  • Launched a country-based strategic planning approach, with 20 Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) already underway. The CDCS will help the agency make evidenced-based decisions, prioritize investments, and hold itself accountable for results.

For more about USAID, please visit www.usaid.gov.

Improving Rural Livelihoods by Empowering African Women Researchers in Agricultural Science

With sharp minds, inquisitive souls, and iron wills, they are an 11-strong group of top-level women scientists in agricultural research with their eyes set on influencing national and regional policy to improve livelihoods in Mozambique and across Africa. Through their work, they are helping to change the face of a continent where women are seldom heard, but are always called on to give and to nurture. They are Mozambique’s scientists in the AWARD program for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, funded by USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Anabela Manhica proudly exhibits a laptop received from the AWARD program. Photo Credit: USAID/Mozambique

Esperanca Chamba, who specializes in natural resources management, is one of 11 women scientists in Mozambique who were selected from among hundreds of applicants from 10 sub-Saharan countries as fellows of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) project. AWARD was established in 2008 by the Gender & Diversity Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, following a three-year pilot program in East Africa. It is a professional development program that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science, empowering them to contribute more effectively to poverty alleviation and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. The US$15 million, five-year project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, with plans to extend to a second phase starting in 2013.

Chamba’s example of a foiled attempt in experimental nutrition finely captures the context of women and agricultural research and development in Africa. “Most of the work in the fields is in women’s hands,” says rural extension officer Claudia Nhatembe, during a break from the sweet potato fields on the rich soils of IIAM’s Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, some 30 km outside the capital, Maputo. “It’s hard work–plowing, sowing and harvesting. For men, it’s mostly handling the plantation’s irrigation systems.”

In Africa, women like Nhatembe carry most of the burden of running the household, raising children, tending to their husbands, fetching water, collecting firewood, cooking and cleaning, and plowing and sowing. They are the pillars of society, yet are commonly ignored. “We give rural women a voice, because through our work, they will also have a voice,” says Carla Menezes, a researcher and Head of Nutrition at IIAM, who is studying alternative feeding options for small ruminants to lower production costs of animal breeding in rural households.

“Scientists are on the cutting edge of solving Africa’s food crisis. But we need to urgently address the gender gap in our scientific community,” says Akinwumi Adesina, Vice President of Policy and Partnerships of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. “We need more women pursuing careers in agricultural science because women are the face of African farming.”

Research shows that the number of women enrolling in agricultural sciences is steadily increasing, but women researchers tend to drop out as they move up the career ladder. Termed the “leaky pipeline”, this phenomenon is generally attributed to traditional, male-dominated organizational dynamics, in additional to cultural barriers to women’s education and advancement. AWARD seeks to reverse that trend.

“We need good collaboration to make sure that women are equal partners with men farmers all the way through the process,” U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said recently in Nairobi. “The AWARD program is a great example. It supports women scientists working to improve farming here in Africa and to fight hunger and poverty. And we need women represented in our laboratories, as well as in our fields.”

Recent studies indicate that the majority of those who produce, process, and market Africa’s food are women, but only one in four agricultural researchers is female. A study by AWARD and the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators on “Women’s Participation in Agricultural Research and Higher Education”, which looked at key trends in sub-Saharan Africa, found that the overall proportion of female professional agricultural and higher education staff increased from 18 percent in 2000/01 to 24 percent in 2007/08. On a national basis, female staffing levels were particularly low in Ethiopia, Togo, Niger and Burkina Faso, whereas in Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa levels were high. However, the benchmarking survey—which was conducted in 125 agricultural research and higher education agencies in 15 sub-Saharan countries—showed that only 14 percent of the management positions were held by women.

“Only with the full involvement and leadership of women in agriculture will Africa succeed in its quest for food security and prosperity,” says Vicki Wilde, Director of AWARD and the CGIAR Gender & Diversity Program. “There is no time to lose.”

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southeastern Africa, is a member of the Commonwealth and the only non-English speaking country represented in AWARD. With a population of 20 million, it was ranked 22nd out of 134 countries in the Gender Gap Index for 2010. Although the country scores poorly in terms of educational attainment (123rd), it boasts a good female-to-male ratio in terms of economic participation and opportunity. Analysts say there is an increasing trend in women’s contribution to economic growth, although there is a lowering contribution in sectors like agriculture, where there are more women but incomes are lowest.

“We know the people who matter most aren’t the financiers or the agriculture ministers or the assistance workers and partners. They are the women farmers who are the untapped solution to this problem,” says USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. “We’re working to ensure that women get equal access to services and support, such as financial services that preferentially target women and extension services delivered by female workers. To make this happen, we are investing in women producer networks and expanding fellowship programs, such as the AWARD program.”

The 11 Mozambican fellows cover a broad range of agricultural sciences, from forestry management to agro-economics and veterinary medicine, including animal production, reproduction, and nutrition. “I am inquisitive by nature. I feel enraptured by the process of looking at a problem, imagining solutions, and seeking the adequate answer,” says Paula Pimentel, a senior researcher at IIAM, who is currently studying gender relations in goat-breeding families in the remote district of Chicualacuala, about 500 km from Maputo.

What drives all these women is a focus on pro-poor, community-oriented research objectives, and an awareness of the need to combine traditional knowledge with modern methods as a fundamental contribution to scientific advancements. “Learning from local techniques should always be the starting point,” says Anabela Manhiça, Senior Researcher and Head of the Technology Transfer Department at IIAM. “Rural producers have abundant knowledge. It’s always best to learn what they are doing, how they are doing it, and then add the new technology. It doesn’t work when you try to introduce something completely new.”

“These outstanding Mozambicans debunk the myth in some science circles that qualified African women researchers ‘aren’t out there’—that they don’t exist in significant numbers,” says Wilde. “Qualified women scientists are out there. These women prove it.”

200 Years of Global Health in 4 Minutes

Let’s be honest, statistics can be boring and oftentimes intimidating. It’s unfortunate because behind every statistic there is an incredible story to be told. While statisticians are not generally known for their charismatic personalities, Hans Rosling has done the impossible—he discovered a way to unearth compelling stories that are often lost in a vast sea of hard data.

Photo Credit: Ryan Cherlin/USAID

Through his non profit venture Gapminder, Rosling is dedicated to telling the story of global health by converting numbers into exciting presentations with stunning animated and interactive graphics. In order to change mindsets with datasets, he relies on credible sources to supply him with the raw materials he needs.

Rosling pulls data from several sources, including the USAID funded Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), to create his animated presentations that have captivated global health professionals, government officials, policy makers, as well as audiences unfamiliar with global health issues. For the past 25 years, DHS has proved to be the gold standard of high quality and reliable data on health in developing nations. This data provides critical insight that helps decision makers establish evidence-based priorities and policies to progress the global health agenda.

The DHS program works with countries’ health ministries and has conducted some 260 surveys in over 90 developing countries measuring key indicators including infant and child mortality, fertility, family planning use, maternal health, child immunization, and malnutrition levels. Beginning in 2001, DHS began measuring HIV prevalence in national surveys, leading to an international reassessment of both the extent and epidemiology of the AIDS epidemic.

Check out more of Hans Rosling’s videos on the Gapcast YouTube channel.

Digital Birth Control On Your iPhone

Just when you thought there was an application for everything, now you can download birth control to your smart phones. The ability to plan or prevent pregnancy is something most couples in developed nations take for granted. In poor countries where health systems are often weak and individuals can’t afford to see a health professional this luxury is wanted and needed, but not easily attained.

An estimated 200 million women wish they could plan for or prevent pregnancy because having more children poses a health risk to the woman or an economic challenge for the family.

The product, iCycleBeads, is now available at the iTunes store. It’s a natural birth control method that enables a woman to track her menstrual cycle and know if she is on a day when pregnancy is likely or not. Many women and couples prefer this method because it is:

  • More than 95% Effective
  • Side-Effect Free
  • Easy to Use
  • Inexpensive
  • Educational & Empowering

Since 1985 USAID has supported the use and development of natural family planning methods that give couples the tools they need to plan for the future health and stability of their families. It was a USAID-funded study that originally developed the science and methodology behind Cyclebeads which has helped couples in developing countries plan their families for decades.

This new trend towards digitizing birth control through smart phone applications or similar services offered on regular cell phones means more couples will have access to the family planning services they want.

CycleBeads is a color-coded string of beads that represents the days of a woman’s cycle and helps her use a natural family planning method called the Standard Days Method®. To use CycleBeads, a woman simply moves a ring over the beads to track each day of her cycle. The color of the beads lets her know whether she is on a day when pregnancy is likely or not and whether her cycle length is in the appropriate range for using this natural family planning method.

USAID joins NASA for the LAUNCH: Health Forum

There is a lot of excitement around Science, Technology, and Innovation at USAID right now.  This weekend is one of the reasons why.  I arrived this morning at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with my USAID colleagues for the LAUNCH: Health Forum, which is at the cutting edge of USAID’s and the US Government’s efforts to foster innovation in science and technology.

USAID and our LAUNCH founding partners NASA, Nike, and the State Department created LAUNCH because we are seeking game-changing, scalable innovations.  For USAID, that often means low-cost, replicable technologies and models poised for impact across multiple regions in the developing world.  We are very excited about the group of LAUNCH: Health innovators we have convened.  They include, for example:

  • A no disposal, biodegradable “needle” for vaccinations/injections that does not require needle disposal or a cold chain (“BIONEEDLE”);
  • An extremely low-cost, portable device for administering eye exams in the developing world (“NETRA”);
  • A very low-cost mHealth platform that empowers community health workers to keep patient records and track patients via text messaging in remote, rural locations (“FrontLine SMS: Medic”).

Visit our website to see the full list of innovators and descriptions of their innovations.

The innovators will have the chance to engage in two days of collaboration with the LAUNCH Council, a world class group of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, scientists, engineers, and leaders in government, media, and business.  We have assembled the Council to give individualized advice to the innovators and form a network that can help them accelerate their innovations in the near future. And, to indulge in a slightly immodest moment, we are proud to be bringing an all star USAID team to the LAUNCH Council.  The team includes Dr. Alex Dehgan, our Science and Technology Adviser to the Administrator; Amie Batson, our Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health; Wendy Taylor, Senior Adviser on Innovative Finance and Public-Private Partnerships in Global Health; and David Ferguson, Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology.

I feel truly privileged to be a part of LAUNCH, and I hope the LAUNCH: Health innovators will benefit as much from participating as we do.  We’re looking forward to collaborating with them and the council members to move these innovations toward impact.

Please follow LAUNCH this weekend and participate right along with us.  Portions of the conference will be viewable live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/launch-health and you can follow Forum debate and brainstorming live throughout LAUNCH on NASA’s very cool MindMapr tool at http://mindmapr.nasa.gov.

State Department to Host India Diaspora Conference

When people hear that I am a medical doctor and that I work for USAID, they often say that my heart is in the right place.  I correct them:  actually, my heart is in three places—America first, as I am now an American, but also India and Pakistan, where I grew up.

I was born in Pakistan, but as a young child I contracted polio at the age of ten months and was sent to India for treatment.  I spent much of my childhood and teen years in India. I did recover, but the disabling effects of polio had already set in. I had also discovered my calling in life to help others in need and my focus has been on women and children to improve their health status and survival.  I became a medical doctor and specialized in public health.

I have been fortunate to achieve that dream here in the States and, like so many others in the diaspora, knew I wanted to “give back”—both to my adopted country and to my “home” countries, India and Pakistan.  So I am especially excited that the State Department is hosting a gathering of the Indian American diaspora this afternoon, and I am honored to have been asked to participate in a panel on health.

The theme of today’s U.S.-India People-to-People Conference is “Building the Foundation for a Strong Partnership,” and it is an especially appropriate time given the new relationship that is forming between the U.S. and India.

Diaspora groups are natural partners for USAID.  They have unparalleled insight into their home country, as well as their adopted one.  And they have a passion for seeing good development in their home country, as well as seeing that their U.S. tax dollars are spent effectively and accountably.

It is no secret that, for too long, it has been difficult for small organizations, like many diaspora groups, to navigate the process of applying for USAID grants and contracts.  This is changing, as a result of the reforms currently being instituted at USAID.  As just one example, USAID’s Administrator Rajiv Shah recently launched Development Innovation Ventures, which will enable the Agency to work with a diverse set of partners to identify and scale up innovative solutions to development challenges.

I hope that this conference is the first of many to bring diaspora groups, the private sector, and the government together to address the issues that we all care so much about.

U.S.-India People to People Conference: Building the Foundation for a Strong Partnership

This originally appeared on Dipnote.

Tomorrow, the Department of State will host the U.S.-India People to People (P2P) Conference. Ahead of President Obama’s visit to India, this event will highlight the crucial role of Indian-Americans in the U.S.-India relationship. Secretary Clinton has been clear that connecting with all citizens, not just government officials, is essential to cultivating long-term relationships. While government cooperation remains essential, it is the myriad people-to-people connections that continue to define and further deepen the U.S.-India partnership.

The P2P conference will provide a grassroots discussion forum on four areas important to both countries: renewable energy, global health, education, and economic empowerment. By bringing together innovators and thinkers in these fields, this conference seeks to strengthen the personal networks that spark innovation. We aim to continue working with Indian Americans and others to strengthen and leverage such networks for the mutual benefit of both our countries. Tomorrow’s conference is only the start of our conversation, and we look forward to following up with all the conference attendees and participants.

You can stay connected to the conference by following the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs on Facebook and Twitter.

The People-To-People Conference will be hosted by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with the Indian American Leadership Council (IALC) and the American India Foundation (AIF) in the Loy Henderson Auditorium from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on October 28, 2010. The program will consist of panel discussions related to the five pillars of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, specifically Renewable Energy, Global Health, Education and Economic Empowerment. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Robert D. Hormats will provide opening remarks. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah will give the keynote address and Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar has been invited to give closing remarks. Other senior U.S. government officials will also be in attendance and participating in the various conference sessions. Click here for more information.

Focus on Nutrition: Creating Inclusive Partnerships and Deepening our Knowledge

This originally appeared on DipNote.

Recently, I visited Bangladesh to find out how you feed a country that has half the population of the United States squeezed into an area the size of the state of Iowa. One thing is for certain: no one can do it alone. During my trip, I witnessed how partnerships among a broad range of stakeholders — the Rome-based UN agencies, the Government of Bangladesh, donor countries, civil society and the private sector — are coming together to change the way we address chronic hunger. The U.S. government is supporting partnerships that deliver food, including fortified vegetable oil, in conjunction with health and other interventions that help ensure our programs translate into better nutrition outcomes.

Good nutrition is crucial during the first 1,000 days — from the mother’s pregnancy through the child’s second birthday — because it affects lifelong mental and physical development, IQ, school achievement, and, ultimately, work capacity and income generation. Thus, nourishing children not only enables individuals to achieve their full potential, but creates the conditions for nations to grow and prosper. This is one of the reasons why nutrition is the critical link between Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative, the game-changing Presidential initiatives that address global hunger and maternal and child health as part of a broader strategy to drive sustainable and broad-based growth.

We know that we have to look at child malnutrition in new ways to accelerate progress toward the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. We know that better targeting and implementation of nutrition programs can greatly increase the effectiveness of our assistance and, most importantly, the ability of all children to thrive. We also know, as Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton stated at the “1,000 Days: Change a Life, Change the Future” event in New York last month, that prevention is better, and less expensive, than treatment.

The U.S. government is leading programs that focus on preventing malnutrition before it occurs. Core components of this new approach aim at improving the quality and use of health services, caretaker behaviors and dietary intake. Pregnant women and lactating mothers attend monthly pre- and post-natal services and nutrition education sessions while children up to 24 months are weighed and provided with basic care. Sick or malnourished mothers and children are treated or referred for additional care. Mothers and babies receive supplementary food in addition to a household food ration. As the international community recognizes, we need comprehensive approaches that draw from a broad toolbox in order to prevent and treat malnutrition effectively.

In addition to working to improve our programs on the ground, we are increasing the quality and scope of our food assistance commodities. We recently established a pilot effort to introduce and field-test new or improved micronutrient-fortified food aid products. We are also pursuing innovation around the nutritional content, product composition, and packaging of food products delivered through humanitarian assistance programs. Congress made $14 million available to support these two efforts in fiscal year 2010.

The American people will continue to provide emergency food aid assistance to vulnerable populations. And we are working with top researchers to help ensure that the food aid provided has a high nutritional value. With Tufts University’s School of Nutrition, we are examining nutritional needs and how we can best meet those needs — be they in Bangladesh or the Great Lakes of Central Africa — where I’ve seen incredible work being done. The study includes a scientific review of current enrichment and fortification technologies, a review of methods for delivery of micronutrients and an active consultative process that involves industry, academic and operational experts. Ultimately, it will provide recommendations on how to meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations with food aid assistance in a cost-effective manner.

While we expect that some time will be necessary to implement the recommendations, make the necessary changes in formulations, and test new products, our purpose is clear: We are committed to delivering high-quality, nutritious food assistance to people in need. As reaffirmed in the Committee on World Food Security nutrition side event last week, nutrition science has pointed the way to interventions that are basic, low-cost and effective. There is political will to scale up nutrition, align our efforts and measure our results. As Secretary Clinton has emphasized, we must use this remarkable opportunity to make a measurable impact on child hunger and malnutrition.

New Video Debuts on USAID’s Game-Changing Use of Science, Technology & Innovation

Science, technology, and innovation are core to USAID’s work around the globe. This new video lends some fascinating insight into USAID’s efforts in these areas as well as how we can even further unpack their power to leapfrog development hurdles and the game-changing potential of science, technology and innovation.

USAID premiered the below video at the opening session of last week’s “Transforming Development through Science, Technology and Innovation” conference. To read Dr. Shah’s remarks from the event, click here.

Video Credit: Jonathan Shepard/USAID

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