USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

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

BRINGING MOBILE BANKING TO HAITI

One of the lesser-known victims of Haiti’s devastating earthquake last January was the country’s financial system. Banks were closed for more than a week. Remittances through Fonkoze, a leading transfer agent, ground to a halt and were only restored when a U.S. inter-agency effort flew in more than $2 million. But even as the US, the international community, and the Government of Haiti help these traditional institutions get back on the feet, a critical roadblock to progress remains: less than 10% of Haitians have ever used a commercial bank.

That’s why we’re thrilled to announce today an innovative partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to incentivize the development of financial services by mobile phone in Haiti. In short, these services are quicker, safer, and cheaper than traditional banking and could play a major role in helping to lift Haitians out of poverty and facilitating the country’s rebuilding process.

As part of the program, our friends at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $10 million for a fund to provide cash awards to companies that initiate mobile financial services in Haiti. USAID will offer technical and management assistance and other funding totaling approximately $5 million through one of our projects, the Haiti Integrated Finance for Value Chains and Enterprise (HIFIVE), already underway to improve access to financial services for the underserved. We’re working with Haitian companies in this effort in order to maximize our impact and address a critical need that had not been met through traditional approaches to development.

This type of program represents the approach I’m deeply committed to promoting here at USAID: cutting-edge technologies and programs deployed in new and unique ways to deliver optimal improvement. I’m very optimistic about what this program can do for Haiti and the short and long-term benefits it can deliver.

Because so few Haitians use commercial banks, savings are limited and insecure, employers must rely on sometimes-risky cash distributions, and remittance transfers (which account for about half of the country’s total income) are slowed. This problem is particularly problematic in rural areas and contributes to the over-concentration of Haitians in Port-au-Prince.

With the development of a mobile banking system, Haitians across the country could send, receive, and store money using their cell phones, better connecting them with relatives abroad who send money, employers who want to quickly and easily pay them, and goods and services they want to purchase. Here at USAID, we hope to be able to use mobile banking to pay workers through our cash-for-work programs, which currently employ about 24,000 people every day to do rubble removal and mitigation activities.

As we near the six month commemoration of the January 12th earthquake that devastated Haiti, we’re more focused than ever on helping the people of Haiti tackle the indescribably immense challenges that the earthquake posed. We’re working tirelessly with the international community and the Government of Haiti to address in new and innovative ways—such as through this mobile banking initiative–the problems that existed before the quake and that the disaster has only exacerbated. In this way, I am hopeful that we’ll finally be able to turn a corner on Haiti’s development challenges and put it on a path to a better future.

Click here to read our press release on the announcement.

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