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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

Slam Dunk: Empowering African Women Through Sports

 Astou Ndiaye shows off her ball-handling skills at last year’s launch of Live, Learn, and Play, a partnership between USAID and the National Basketball Association. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Astou Ndiaye shows off her ball-handling skills at last year’s launch of Live, Learn, and Play, a partnership between USAID and the National Basketball Association. / Zack Taylor, USAID

In Senegal, where I grew up, I guess you could say girls look up to me. After all, I’m 6-foot-3. I also won a professional basketball championship, worked my way through graduate school, and now manage a successful career while raising three kids.

Sure, I was a natural fit for basketball. But there was more to it than just the rebounds and my jump shot. The skills I learned playing the sport have led to my success off the court as much as on it.

I was back in Senegal last year to share this idea with hundreds of my compatriots at the launch of a new partnership that brings together the development expertise of USAID and the global cachet of the National Basketball Association.

The project — called Live, Learn and Play — provides opportunities few of us had when I was growing up. As an alumna of the WNBA, the women’s counterpart to the NBA, I was happy to support this new project, which uses basketball to train youth ages 13-18 in leadership, gender awareness and equality, and community participation.

Basketball changed my life. During the course of my career it opened doors, exposed me to new experiences, and taught me a lot about the world and myself.

But in any capacity–professional or not–getting involved in a sport means mastering skills, having the discipline to stay in school, keeping out of trouble, and leading a healthy lifestyle. These little things give young people the inspiration and ability to become leaders in any field. What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life.

Growing up in Dakar, I was fortunate to not lack the basics. However, with 20 siblings you can bet I learned to fight for my share. My mother always emphasized the importance of a good education–when I had to find a creative way to pay for schooling, those lessons in “fighting” paid off.

From the age of 13, I focused all of my strength and toughness on basketball. I practiced all the time: in the rain, and even through Ramadan, when I couldn’t get a drink of water until sunset. Luckily, some great coaches showed me that basketball was something positive that could lead to better things down the road. Mentoring is critical.

A few years later, I made Senegal’s national team. When I figured out that my game could open academic as well as professional doors, I took advantage of an athletic scholarship to go to university, where I graduated cum laude. After being drafted into the WNBA in 2003, I not only had the joy of having triplets, but also of being a part of the Detroit Shock championship team.

Girls learn basic basketball skills under the Live, Learn, and Play partnership with the NBA.“What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life,” former WNBA star Astou Ndiaye says. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Girls learn basic basketball skills under the Live, Learn, and Play partnership with the NBA.“What you learn on the court can apply to any aspect of life,” former WNBA star Astou Ndiaye says. / Zack Taylor, USAID

Basketball careers can’t last forever, so in 2008 I retired, became a coach and pursued a graduate degree in human resources. I’ve settled down now, and work with the state Health Care Authority in Oklahoma.

I know that my natural athletic gifts and supportive upbringing gave me better chances than many girls in Senegal. Still, I am convinced the principles I learned on the court led me to where I am today. If you understand early that hard work will pay off, everything else “comes around at the boards,” as they say in basketball. That means stay healthy, pay your dues, and know nothing will be handed to you.

Back in Dakar for the Live, Learn and Play launch, I had a chance to speak to the kids in the program. I told them that the odds of making it to the big leagues are tough, but that’s okay.  Dedication to basketball–at any level–teaches the toughness and resilience you need to find a pathway to a bright and successful future.

What’s great about Live, Learn and Play is the development of a network of skilled coaches, mentors and role models who will help thousands of kids become solid, productive citizens and active community members, whether they continue with sports or not.

This program can help empower girls in Africa, an issue close to my heart. Senegal is among the more forward-thinking countries in West Africa, but women there still face significant hurdles because of their gender.

Wherever I go, I encourage women and girls to push themselves to the forefront in whatever they do. Get out there and own it. Because when women get that, they are the real champions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Astou Ndiaye, a former star in the WNBA, is a human resources specialist at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and motivational speaker.

Young Storytellers and the Power of Literacy

A Rwandan child reads with his teacher. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

A Rwandan child reads with his teacher. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

Editor’s Note: Parts of this blog post originally appeared as a longer feature story from Education Development Center (EDC).

The tale “Old Woman and a Hyena” tells the story of a Rwandan mother and her four sons who live in terror of a marauding hyena. Each day, while the sons are away hunting, the hyena comes to the family’s hut and steals their food. The boys are hungry but too scared to confront the creature. One day, the sons finally muster up the courage to fight the beast—and it is the youngest who finally kills it. He is then richly rewarded by his mother, for though he had been the most scared, he was the one to show the most bravery.

In a land with an oral history as rich and beautiful as the hills that roll across it, this tale is special—it was written by an 11-year-old boy named Francois Hakizimana.

Andika Rwanda, a national writing competition, was popular because it presented a nationwide opportunity to improve reading and writing in a way that was culturally relevant and important. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

Andika Rwanda, a national writing competition, was popular because it presented a nationwide opportunity to improve reading and writing in a way that was culturally relevant and important. / Jackie Lewis, EDC

Hakizimana was one of the winners of Andika Rwanda (Rwanda Writes), a national writing competition that captured the minds (and pens) of young and old storytellers alike. Three thousand entries of original children’s stories and poems poured in;12 winners were honored at an awards ceremony last fall. Their entries have been professionally illustrated and published in a book that will be distributed to every primary school in the country.

The competition was organized by Education Development Center’s USAID-funded Literacy, Language and Learning project in partnership with the Rwanda Educational Board and the Rwanda-based book distributor Drakkar Limited. Since 2011, the project has worked to improve literacy education in Rwanda through development of instructional materials, teacher training, policy development, and delivery of education materials directly to Rwandan communities.

According to Jackie Lewis at Education Development Center, Andika Rwanda was so popular because it presented a nationwide opportunity to improve reading and writing in a way that was culturally relevant and important.

“Rwanda prides itself on homegrown solutions,” she says. “Many schools have a shortage of storybooks, especially for younger children, and especially ones written by Rwandans in the local language of Kinyarwanda. The competition was meant to generate locally authored stories for primary school children, as well as contribute to a culture of reading and writing.”

Rwanda Literacy Week celebrated reading and writing across the country. / Jonathan Padway, USAID

Rwanda Literacy Week celebrated reading and writing across the country. / Jonathan Padway, USAID

A Global Effort

Rwanda is a success story and representative of the education work being done in dozens of other countries around the world. In addition to the Andika Rwanda competition, USAID supports many other innovative teaching and learning tools that target basic literacy and numeracy skills at the primary level. These efforts are focused on improving school quality now that Rwanda has increased access to education – in 2012, 96.5 percent of children were enrolled in primary school, and girls were enrolled at a slightly higher rate than boys.

Literacy isn’t just about kids, either–it’s about the economy, too. The Government of Rwanda has laid out ambitious plans to create a knowledge-based economy built on a skilled workforce that will allow Rwanda to compete both regionally and internationally. A literate population is the foundation of these efforts.

Improving literacy can also play a critical  role in addressing other issues faced by developing countries, including gender equality, economic growth, environmental sustainability, health and food security. Unfortunately, illiteracy is still widespread, with disadvantaged groups – including girls, minorities and people living with disabilities – suffering the most.

This is why, for decades, USAID has been a global leader in improving reading for developing countries. The Agency’s strong focus on reading is in itself an innovative practice. Driving and supporting a strong focus on reading puts us in the forefront of educational development.

On this Leaders for Literacy Day, we must remember the importance of policies that advocate for quality and equality in learning for all children and youth, so that stories like Hakizimana’s turn from extraordinary to commonplace.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is the Senior Advisor for International Education at USAID working to ensure ALL children have access to a quality education. Follow her @ChristieVilsack.

A city in need: A case study of climate change adaptation from Mozambique

During his first visit to Pemba in January 2014, Colin Quinn visited Cariaco, a neighborhood built on a steep hill. By April, some of the houses in Cariaco had been swept away in a landslide. / Carlos Quintela, CCAP

During his first visit to Pemba in January 2014, Colin Quinn visited Cariaco, a neighborhood built on a steep hill. By April, some of the houses in Cariaco had been swept away in a landslide. / Carlos Quintela, CCAP

The first time I visited Pemba, Mozambique to begin a project that would help the port city adapt to climate change, I was not prepared for what I saw.

After a few days of severe rain last year, neighborhoods resembled wetlands, streets had turned into rivers, and a large piece of the main coastal road had fallen into the ocean. Residents of beachside villas were pumping water out of their living rooms. In Cariaco, a neighborhood built on a steep hill above the ocean, one man showed me a crack that had formed in his yard and under his house, an ominous sign.

I had flown into Pemba in January 2014 to talk with the mayor about USAID’s Coastal City Adaptation Project. Pemba is a rapidly growing coastal city of about 150,000 people with a lot of economic potential due to the recent discovery of natural gas. But like most coastal cities in Mozambique, Pemba suffers from a lack of infrastructure — making natural disasters much more destructive. City officials and residents told us that the flooding I encountered had not been seen in Pemba for decades. The silver lining? We had clearly arrived at a fitting time to discuss climate change adaptation.

The future of Pemba, and of Mozambique, depends on its residents’ ability to adapt to climate change. Mozambique is among the African countries most vulnerable to climate change, with over 1,550 miles of coastline, more than half of its population living along the ocean, and cities that function as the nation’s economic hubs. Floods, droughts and tropical cyclones are all common. In places like Pemba, floods will likely become less predictable and more severe, magnified by sea level rise.

A boy in Paquitiquete, the lowest lying neighborhood in Pemba city, walks through a wet section to reach his friend in July 2014. People in Paquitiquete are used to the flooding as a result of tidal changes. Gradual sea level rise and extreme rain keep many houses wet -- the wait for the water to retreat and for houses to dry can be long. / Cristina Miranda, USAID

A boy in Paquitiquete, the lowest lying neighborhood in Pemba city, walks through a wet section to reach his friend in July 2014. People in Paquitiquete are used to the flooding as a result of tidal changes. Gradual sea level rise and extreme rain keep many houses wet — the wait for the water to retreat and for houses to dry can be long. / Cristina Miranda, USAID

Now over a year into the project, our efforts have better prepared Pemba for climate change. Working with the local and central Mozambique government, we have developed an early warning and response system so that residents are better protected from severe floods. This system uses simple texting technology, on ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ phones alike, to send alerts and request data that officials can use to respond to the hardest-hit areas first.

We have created maps to inform future city planning that show areas vulnerable to climate change. We have begun an ongoing, open dialogue with city officials, community leaders, local NGOs and other stakeholders about what it means to adapt to climate change. As a result, we are about to break ground on prototype climate-smart houses and rain catchment systems with local communities. We are also planning a project to stabilize dunes to help prevent flooding. We hope these activities will help Pemba prepare for an uncertain future.

In Pemba, Mozambique, many areas are vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. Paquitiquete, a neighborhood of fishermen in Pemba, is one of the most vulnerable. This map shows houses that are most at risk there.

In Pemba, Mozambique, many areas are vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. Paquitiquete, a neighborhood of fishermen in Pemba, is one of the most vulnerable. This map shows houses that are most at risk there.

I found myself back in Pemba in April 2014, two months after my first trip. The rains had returned–this time they were worse. A temporary camp was constructed for 66 families while they looked for places to rebuild their ruined homes. Food and drinking water were being distributed to those in need. A makeshift canal used to drain water from a neighborhood in January was now a full drainage canal covered by a permanent bridge. When I went back to Cariaco, the house over the crack in the ground was gone; it had been swept away in a landslide. There are no official numbers, but residents later told me 14 people had died in that area, with two people still missing.

We envision a city that is more resilient to extreme weather. When the rains return to Pemba in the future, our work will help families and communities be more prepared.

Through our capacity-building approach, better city planning will result in fewer people impacted, dunes will prevent floods caused by storm surge in soon-to-be-developed coastal zones, and families living in vulnerable areas will have built houses that are more suitable for extreme weather.

In the case of an emergency like last year’s flooding, the early warning response system we developed will alert people to danger so they can take necessary precautions. Over text, community leaders can inform emergency response officials about local risks and damages to ensure an appropriate response.

When I first arrived in Pemba I was not prepared for the magnitude of need I was going to see. After visiting, I know one thing for certain: We are working in the right place.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Quinn is a Climate Change Advisor and Natural Resources Officer with USAID’s mission in Mozambique.

Training the Next Generation of Ebola Fighters

To learn how to safely treat Ebola patients while staying alive, doctors and nurses must learn how to navigate an Ebola “maze” run by the U.S. military in Liberia. / Carol Han, USAID

To learn how to safely treat Ebola patients while staying alive, doctors and nurses must learn how to navigate an Ebola “maze” run by the U.S. military in Liberia. / Carol Han, USAID

Walk into the gymnasium of the Liberian National Police Training Academy and you’ll come across a maze so bizarre—and as it turns out so high-stakes—that  successfully navigating it could mean the difference between life and death.

Welcome to the nerve center of the U.S. health care worker training program. It’s a replica of an Ebola treatment unit (ETU), where doctors, nurses, hygienists, and others learn how to safely care for Ebola patients while staying alive.


The U.S.-run Ebola health care worker training takes place at the Liberian National Police Academy, where the gymnasium has been transformed into a mock Ebola treatment unit.  / Carol Han, USAID

The U.S.-run Ebola health care worker training takes place at the Liberian National Police Academy, where the gymnasium has been transformed into a mock Ebola treatment unit. / Carol Han, USAID

“Everything is about safety—the safety of the staff and the safety of the patients,” said U.S. Army Colonel Laura Favand, who helps oversee the Ebola health care worker training program.

During the week-long class, students first spend three days in the classroom where U.S. military doctors, nurses and medics teach them every aspect of Ebola care, from diagnosis and patient recordkeeping to proper disinfection techniques and safe handling of the dead.

Cross-contamination is the biggest threat in an ETU, which is why there’s an entire class dedicated to proper hand-washing techniques. Another critical lesson: how to take off protective suits, goggles, and gloves without inadvertently contracting the disease.

According to Colonel Favand, this is one of the most vulnerable times for Ebola health care workers.


Taking off protective suits—like what’s being done here at a USAID-supported ETU in Sierra Leone—is a vulnerable time for health care workers. That’s why so much time is spent teaching health care workers how to prevent cross-contamination.  / Carol Han, USAID

Taking off protective suits—like what’s being done here at a USAID-supported ETU in Sierra Leone—is a vulnerable time for health care workers. That’s why so much time is spent teaching health care workers how to prevent cross-contamination. / Carol Han, USAID

“You’ll see someone getting ready to take their gloves off and their hands are shaking,” said Favand. “They know how important this is.”

Classroom time is followed by two days spent in the “mock ETU” where students are taught how to navigate in a clinical setting and practically apply all that they have learned. Actual Ebola survivors play the role of patients, offering invaluable insight into what actually happens in an ETU. According to participants, the survivors also help teach them how to communicate with patients.


Actual Ebola survivors play the role of patients at U.S. Ebola health care worker trainings, providing invaluable insight. Here, a student assesses a child patient and Ebola survivor during a training session in Greenville, Liberia under the watchful eyes of the instructor. / Col. Laura Favand, U.S. Army

Actual Ebola survivors play the role of patients at U.S. Ebola health care worker trainings, providing invaluable insight. Here, a student assesses a child patient and Ebola survivor during a training session in Greenville, Liberia under the watchful eyes of the instructor. / Col. Laura Favand, U.S. Army

“We learn some different terms in Liberian English that allows us to have a more accurate perception of the patient,” said Ephraim Palmero, medical director for the International Organization of Migration, an organization being supported by USAID to run three U.S.-built ETUs in Liberia.

“For example, instead of saying ‘how are you,’ Liberians ask, ‘how’s the body,’” Palmero explained.


On the Road: The U.S. military has deployed mobile training teams throughout Liberia to offer the same course to those who can’t travel to the main training site in the Monrovia metro area. / Carol Han, USAID

On the Road: The U.S. military has deployed mobile training teams throughout Liberia to offer the same course to those who can’t travel to the main training site in the Monrovia metro area. / Carol Han, USAID

Besides running the training at the Liberian police academy, the U.S. military deploys four mobile training teams throughout Liberia to offer the same course to health care workers who are unable to make it to Monrovia.  Liberian health officials — in charge of training the next generation of Ebola health care workers — also take the class.

“I love doing this mission,” said U.S. Army Captain Alex Ailer. “I like that people here are being helped and that we are also helping local people help themselves.”


U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Muniz and U.S. Army Captain Anna Bible take a break while teaching an Ebola health care training course in Harper, Liberia. They are part of a mobile training team. / Carol Han, USAID

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Muniz and U.S. Army Captain Anna Bible take a break while teaching an Ebola health care training course in Harper, Liberia. They are part of a mobile training team. / Carol Han, USAID

As of early January 2015, more than 1,500 Liberian and international health care workers have taken part in the training, including several USAID partners that are now running the U.S.-built ETUs.

“The training was incredible and great for me because it alleviated my fears,” said Micaela Theisen with the International Organization for Migration. “It [made] me feel good and ready to get to work.”

Her colleague Catherine Thomas agreed.

“The staff there, their medical knowledge was very comforting to us who were just starting out.” said Thomas. “They were just great.”


(from left to right) Health care workers Catherine Thomas, Micaela Theisen, and Rene Vega—all working at USAID-supported ETUs—have taken the U.S. Ebola health care worker training course. “The training was incredible and great for me because it alleviated my fears,” said Theisen.  / Carol Han, USAID

From left to right: Health care workers Catherine Thomas, Micaela Theisen, and Rene Vega—all working at USAID-supported ETUs—have taken the U.S. Ebola health care worker training course. “The training was incredible and great for me because it alleviated my fears,” said Theisen. / Carol Han, USAID

 


The Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is overseeing the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Han is a Press Officer for the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which oversees the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

At the Heart of Ebola — Health Systems That Need Strengthening

A man at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas tested positive for Ebola September 30th, the first case of the disease to be diagnosed in the United States. According to many experts, it was only a matter of time.

Health officials in the U.S. have been preparing since summer in case an individual traveler arrived here unknowingly infected. With stringent isolation protocols in place, infection-control steps to prevent the virus from spreading in health facilities, and efforts to trace people who have had close personal contact with the ill person, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Tom Frieden, was confident addressing media, saying “I have no doubt that we will contain this.”

But in West Africa, the Ebola epidemic is a sobering reminder of the lethal consequences of limited infectious disease surveillance and response capacities, and the vast development needs that persist in some of the region’s poorest countries despite rapid economic growth and investment.

At the heart of the Ebola epidemic sweeping across Africa, is a matter of health systems.

Health workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) wait to enter the hot zone at Island Clinic / Morgana Wingard

Health workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) wait to enter the hot zone at Island Clinic / Morgana Wingard

Much like cholera preys on weak water systems after a disaster, Ebola is preying on a weak public health system after years of conflict and upheaval in Liberia. And health system perfor­mance in many partner countries is challenged by critical health worker shortages, inadequate financing, poor or disjointed information systems, lack of essential information on public health threats, and inexperienced leadership.

Countries that already have limited ability to provide health care for their citizens can ill-afford to lose health care workers to sickness and death, close health facilities, or redirect resources for other development priorities to battle this epidemic.

As Ebola spreads, citizens are impacted not just by the virus itself, but also by the loss of other critically needed services. As hospitals and clinics become overwhelmed by the epidemic, they are unable to provide necessary maternal and child care and life-saving treatment for malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases.

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Global Health, said, “The state of the health workforce and health systems has hampered the ability of these countries to respond to the Ebola epidemic – but these countries are hardly alone in having inadequate training, support and numbers of health workers.”

Zaira Alonso, a finance and administration director for USAID’s Rebuilding Basic Health Services project in Liberia implemented by John Snow International, paints a bleak picture. “The entire Liberian landscape has changed dramatically in just a matter of weeks. Many government ministries are practically empty, as non-essential staff were placed on 30 days compulsory leave. Roads are empty, as many Liberians are staying at home to remain safe, and a large part of the expatriate community has left the country. Most people are just simply scared.”

The U.S. Government, including USAID and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and others are using a broad disaster management approach to contain the epidemic. Since the spring of 2014, the United States has been providing health equipment and emergency supplies, training and supporting health care workers on infection control and case management, supporting public outreach campaigns and helping build the capacity of local health care and emergency response systems.

As part of the overall U.S. Government response effort, the United States recently provided support to the African Union’s urgent deployment of trained and equipped medical workers to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic. This support is helping transport doctors, nurses and other essential personnel to manage and run Ebola treatment units that isolate and treat those affected by the disease, helping minimize the spread of Ebola. It will also provide urgent emergency supplies and health equipment to help these medical workers respond.

A health care worker checks on patients admitted to the Ebola Treatment Unit in Island Clinic. / Morgana Wingard

A health care worker checks on patients admitted to the Ebola Treatment Unit in Island Clinic. / Morgana Wingard


And President Obama earlier this month announced a major surge in U.S. assistance in West Africa to help recruit, organize and train new health care workers and build treatment clinics.

Adding qualified and trained health workers will make a big difference. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are among 83 countries worldwide that the WHO last year reported to have below the minimum ratio of doctors, nurses and midwives (22.8 per 10,000 people) needed to provide basic health services to a population. WHO and the Global Health Workforce Alliance estimate at least 7.2 million doctors, nurses and midwives are currently needed globally – a gap that could creep to nearly 13 million by 2035 if we keep with the status quo.

Dr. Larry Barat, senior advisor with the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative said one distinguishing factor of countries in Africa that have controlled malaria from those who still struggle to do so is the functionality of their health systems and their skilled human capacity. “Countries like Rwanda, Senegal, Ethiopia and Zambia have successfully reduced malaria burden, in part, because their health systems are able to deliver essential commodities to all parts of their countries, and people can access health services, with trained personnel.”

Haja Wurie, of COMHAS and the ReBUILD Consortium in Sierra Leone, where she has been working on health systems research, painted a vivid picture of a health system already weakened by years of war. Ebola first hit isolated, remote communities with limited access to health services. Their reliance on traditional healers and informal providers of health care may have exacerbated the spread of the illness. “Health staff face a very uncertain future as they bravely respond to Ebola,” she said. “They have inadequate supplies of the commodities they need to protect themselves. Many have watched their colleagues succumb to the illness die. They need urgent support and solidarity from the international community to motivate and incentivise them to face the tough times ahead.”

The Ebola epidemic reminds us that our global efforts to build the capacity to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to infectious disease threats like Ebola have never been more vital. If we use all of our might to ramp up the response to Ebola while also investing in strengthening critical health care systems (including the components that prevent, detect, and respond to infectious diseases), we can help bring the current epidemic under control and reduce the possibility of future outbreaks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Thomas is a Communications Advisor in the Bureau for Global Health providing strategic counsel to political and civilian leadership and technical staff on matters of public interest.

An Unprecedented Response to the Ebola Crisis

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. / Morgana Wingard

Today the world is facing the largest and most-protracted Ebola epidemic in history. Yesterday, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Obama declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a top national security priority and announced a clear, comprehensive, and global strategy to stop the outbreak.

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

The United States has been combating the Ebola epidemic since the first cases were reported in March, and we have expanded our efforts and increased personnel in the region as the crisis has unfolded. More than 120 specialists from across the U.S. Government are on the ground in West Africa to prevent, detect, and stop the spread of this disease. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team—or DART—to the region to oversee and coordinate the U.S. response, providing logistics, planning, program, and operational support to the affected countries; drawing forth critical assets and resources from several U.S. departments and agencies.

This crisis continues to escalate exponentially and requires an intensified speed and scale of response to address a rising rate of infection. It has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. Heroic doctors, nurses, and health workers are stretched to their personal and professional limits.

Against this landscape of overwhelming despair, there is hope. As the President declared in Atlanta:

“The world knows how to fight this disease. It’s not a mystery. We know the science.  We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it.  We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast.“

That’s why yesterday afternoon President Obama announced a significant expansion of our response.

In an Ebola crisis, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with.

In an Ebola outbreak, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with. / Morgana Wingard

Through a whole-of-government approach, we’re mounting an aggressive U.S. effort to fight this epidemic and have devised a clear strategy with four key pillars to stop this epic crisis:

  • Controlling the epidemic;
  • Mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls;
  • Coordinating the U.S. and broader global response; and
  • Fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond.

Our goal is to enable the most effective international response possible, using our government-wide capabilities to fight the epidemic on a regional basis. Our current efforts have focused on controlling the spread of the disease—bringing in labs for specimen testing; supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief supplies; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; supporting burial teams who are safely managing human remains to prevent transmission; and spearheading mass public awareness campaigns with communities to describe how to prevent, detect, and treat Ebola.

To complement these efforts, the President also announced the launch of the USAID-led Community Care Campaign, which will aim to provide every family and every community the critical information and basic items that can help protect them from this deadly virus.  Information will stress the importance of sick families members seeking help at a clinic or Ebola treatment unit and how to exercise basic infection control that can be life-saving, such as washing hands or not washing their dead relatives. Items like soap and chlorine can reduce transmission. Women are especially important to reach given their traditional role in washing the bodies of dead relatives — a prime transmission route of the virus. To reach people with low literacy, the campaign will train health volunteers and community leaders on how best to verbally provide messages to their neighbors.

Partnering with the affected countries, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and organizations on the ground, USAID will initially target 400,000 of the highest risk households in Liberia with this vital training and important tools.

The campaign is also rooted in a sobering reality. Half of all people who get sick don’t seek treatment at hospitals or Ebola treatment units. Many are frightened by rumors and deterred from traveling to hospitals where their friends and neighbors are taken and never return. A complex array of traditional beliefs and practices mean many of those who should seek help choose to stay in their homes – often putting those family members who care for them at risk.

The Ebola crisis is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola.

The Ebola epidemic is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola. / Morgana Wingard

This week, working alongside the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we will airlift 50,000 USAID-funded home health care kits to be delivered to some of the most isolated and vulnerable communities in Liberia. We will simultaneously work with every part of society to educate people on how to prevent and detect Ebola through mass public awareness campaigns supported by radio, text, television and community announcements. As we scale up our response, the only way the virus will be controlled is if we make concerted efforts to reach every community, and every home in the affected areas.

We know tough months lie ahead. It will require a coordinated effort by the entire global community to help stem this terrible public health crisis. But every outbreak of Ebola in the last 40 years has been stopped, and this one will be, as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Lindborg is the USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

The Power of Scientific Research Investment in Africa

On Friday, August 1st, Mr. Melvin Foote and Dr. Nkem Khumbah published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing persuasively that scientific and technological progress is the key to African development. In their words:

“Scientific and technological advancement will help eradicate poverty and promote homegrown economic development by providing Africa with the tools to address its own challenges and expand its industrial productivity.”

In the days before the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah encouraged the U.S. Government to embrace “a science-led agenda in Africa” by pairing American higher education institutions, scientific research centers and tech entrepreneurs with African counterparts to spur economic growth and reduce dependence on aid.

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah’s vision is one that USAID fully supports and has already taken significant steps to catalyze. Today, Africans are the architects of their development, not just beneficiaries. This new model for development focuses on partnerships — with African governments, businesses, universities and civil society.

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

Building lasting partnerships with African leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators is at the core of USAID’s approach, which seeks to end extreme poverty by investing in Africa’s greatest resource: its people. Many of our newest initiatives reflect not only our renewed commitment to science and technology, but the central importance Africans play in global affairs throughout the 21st century.

USAID is constantly seeking new African partners in an effort to support great ideas from people all over the continent. Under efforts like USAID’s new Global Development Lab, which brings together diverse partners to discover, test and scale new solutions to chronic development challenges, we have identified 200 promising innovations that are currently being tested and evaluated.

Many of these solutions come from developing country entrepreneurs, including African entrepreneurs. A prescription medication verification and tracking system invented by Sproxil, a Kenya-based company (and USAID partner) has reached over 2 million customers in Ghana, Nigeria and East Africa by placing scratch cards on packs of medication. The scratch card reveals a numerical code, and when texted to a Sproxil-provided phone number, will verify whether the drug is genuine or fake. Dozens of similar innovations that have the potential to save millions of lives are currently being tested in Africa, including inexpensive chlorine dispensers in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi and stickers to encourage passengers to urge bus drivers in Kenya to slow down, thereby reducing traffic accidents and related deaths.

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Power Africa is another example of USAID’s new model in action. Through the U.S. Government’s partnerships with African governments, private investors, developers and others, not only is Power Africa saving lives by, for example, bringing electricity to a rural clinic, but it is also spurring long-term growth by scaling new technologies, generating new jobs, and reducing the risks for foreign investment.

Power Africa may have been conceived by the U.S. Government, but the private sector has since taken the lead — the U.S. Government commitment of $7 billion in financing and loan guarantees has given both international and African businesses the confidence to invest in Africa’s emerging electricity sector to the tune of more than $20 billion to date.

As Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah note, it is critical to train the next generation of Africans in science and engineering. USAID supports a number of efforts to this end currently, and is hoping to do more in the near future. In November 2012, USAID and seven universities launched the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) with the goal of bringing their intellectual power and enthusiasm closer to real-time development innovations in the field. This network currently collaborates with labs at four African universities to support studies of how communities respond to changing conditions such as urbanization, changes in local climate, and post-war recovery.

In addition, members of the network collaborate with and support existing S&T based African-led enterprises and emergent community led technology development. The Higher Education for Development (HED) program has supported dozens of partnerships between U.S. universities and African peer institutions. These partnerships typically last years beyond the U.S. investment and result in broad and deep connections between the U.S. and Africa.

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK).

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK). / Lilian Pintea, Jane Goodall Institute

Similarly, the Research and Innovation Fellowships (RI Fellowships) program and Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program foster science and engineering partnerships on the individual level. RI Fellowships currently supports more than 60 African scientists to collaborate with U.S. fellows in applying their scientific and technological expertise to local development challenges. The PEER program funds scientists who see problems in their midst to do the in-depth research required for creative solutions, while simultaneously expanding research ecosystems in the developing world.

One hundred and fourteen PEER scientists around the world tackle local challenges with tenacity and intellectual vigor, guiding the local development agenda and building an academic foundation for progress. The recent 2014 PEER awardees’ meeting brought 39 PEER awardees from 10 African countries to Arusha, Tanzania to build new connections. As part of the conference, the Vice President of Tanzania, His Excellency Mohamed Bilal, delivered the keynote address in which he said, “Science, engineering and technology education in Sub Saharan Africa holds the key to unlocking the continent’s great potential that could propel sustainable growth and development.”

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah are right on the mark that a new model of development for Africa must be inclusive, grounded in the latest scientific and technological advancements, and focused on African priorities. Working with counterparts across Africa is the best way to catalyze the technological and scientific change that will be necessary to make the continent’s economic growth sustainable far into the future. Great ideas backed by 21st century science and technology – many of them home-grown in Africa – are the surest path to lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty for good.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry O’Brien is the Director of the Center for Data, Analysis, and Research in the U.S. Global Development Lab. Follow the Lab @GlobalDevLab

Making for a Stronger Africa

This post has been cross-listed with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog

This month, the first class of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellows converged on Washington, D.C. for their inaugural Presidential Summit. During the Summit, many of the Fellows joined the US Global Development Lab and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at Fab Lab DC to discuss the role of making in Africa’s economic and community development.

Mandela Washington Fellows gather to discuss how making will help shape Africa’s future. / Mike Star

Mandela Washington Fellows gather to discuss how making will help shape Africa’s future. / Mike Star

The Maker Movement is transforming the way we design and produce things – both here at home and overseas. At this year’s first-ever White House Maker Faire, President Obama described making as “a revolution that can help us create new jobs and industries for decades to come.” In recognition of the potential of young African visionaries to advance the Maker Movement, YALI is working to equip change-makers with the tools they need to foster progress across the continent.

 Community maker spaces are already springing up around the world, providing public access to tools and technologies like 3D printers, laser cutters, and low-cost modular electronics, which dramatically change the rules of invention – anyone with an idea can bring that idea to life. By democratizing the means to create, digital manufacturing lowers the barrier to entrepreneurship around the world, including in developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa.

WoeLab inventor Afate Gniko with his e-waste 3D printer. / woelabo.com

WoeLab inventor Afate Gniko with his e-waste 3D printer. / woelabo.com

 In 2012, Togolese entrepreneur Sename Koffi Abdojinou founded WoeLab, a bootstrapped maker space and business incubator built on an ethos of community design and open-access hardware in low-resource settings. Illustrating the power of this philosophy in action, WoeLab member Afate Gnikou invented a 3D printer made primarily from discarded electronics, or e-waste, scrapped from landfills. The invention’s design has been openly published, so makers across Africa and the rest of the world can leverage his ingenuity to sow the seeds of digital fabrication in their own communities. This year at the Fab10 maker conference, WoeLab’s e-waste 3D printer was awarded the Global Fab Award.

Maker spaces like Abdojinou’s WoeLab promote hands-on STEM education; they empower ordinary people to develop local solutions to the challenges faced in their communities; they encourage entrepreneurship.  In October 2013, Togo celebrated its ten most promising young entrepreneurs. Three of them came from WoeLab.

The maker movement paves a clear path toward local problem solving and entrepreneurship, both hallmarks of the Mandela Fellowship, as we learned firsthand:

Fellow Abibatou Banda Fall helps women develop products to improve their livelihoods, like a low-cost thermal basket to keep goods warm as they’re taken to markets, in Senegal.

Lukonga Lindunda operates a co-working space to support innovative tech entrepreneurs in Zambia.

Selma Neves helps struggling single mothers lift themselves out of poverty through self-employment training and support in Cabo Verde.

Ruth Lukwaro pairs inventors with business students to build sustainable social enterprises in Tanzania.

Mutoba Ngoma turns agricultural waste into consumer goods like biodiesel fuel for local markets in Zambia.

Tatiana Pereira runs a business incubator for early-stage startups in Mozambique. “I can have greater impact on people’s lives by sharing knowledge and strengthening the ones around me,” she said.  “Success is the entrepreneurs that start and succeed.”

 The Fellows also had an opportunity to speak with Emeka Okafor, founder of Maker Faire Africa, who encouraged them to cultivate a culture of making. “Making is central to leading Africa where it needs to be: a developing, problem solving region,” he said. “It’s imperative that communities from Cairo to the Cape unfetter their populations with tools from within. Making is pivotal if this is to occur.” Maker Faire Africa showcases makers’ ingenuity and strengthen their pan-African network. Started in 2009, the organization has hosted events in four different African countries. The next Maker Faire Africa will be held later this year.

 Looking forward, makers in Africa are faced with a spectrum of challenges, ranging from amplified versions of those familiar to American entrepreneurs like gaining access to venture capital and low-cost manufacturing, to more frustrating hurdles like inadequate electricity and supply chain infrastructure. Daunting though these challenges may be, the gritty determination of young African leaders like Abdojinou is unwavering. Africa’s makers and entrepreneurs will help shape the future of the continent.  “Growth,” said Pereira, “comes from people who act and make things happen – entrepreneurs. Africa is full of opportunities and young people with great potential.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric King (@eric_m_king) is an Innovation Specialist at the U.S. Global Development Lab.
Stephanie Santoso is a Researcher at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Kate Gage (@kategage) is an Advisor at the U.S. Global Development Lab at U.S. Agency for International Development.

On the Frontlines of the Ebola Response: an Inside Look at a Program to Help the Grieving

The West African Ebola outbreak is the worst outbreak in history, affecting four countries. The U.N. World Health Organization declared it an international health emergency

The West African Ebola outbreak is the worst outbreak in history, affecting four countries. The U.N. World Health Organization declared it an international health emergency / Christina Goldsmith, CDC

In Liberia, a country gripped by Ebola, the outbreak has not only taken its toll on health care workers but also on the professionals who comfort the grieving.

“The outbreak of Ebola was very shocking and overwhelming to our country,” said Jestina Hoff, a counselor with the Liberian Red Cross. “It brought a lot fear.”

As a counselor with the Liberian Red cross, Jestina Hoff must find ways to comfort Ebola victims or their families without getting close to them

As a counselor with the Liberian Red cross, Jestina Hoff must find ways to comfort Ebola victims or their families without getting close to them. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

The outbreak has also hampered Hoff’s ability to do her job. “As a counselor, I talk to parents who lost a child or to someone who has gotten sick with the virus,” said Hoff. “They are feeling so discouraged, and I have to help them accept the situation and comfort them, but without touching them.”

Francesca Crabu, a clinical psychologist with the International Committee of the Red Cross, explained that having close contact with those who are grieving is key to providing psychosocial support. But in Liberia and other parts of Western Africa, preventative measures require people to stay at arm’s length from each other.

“Here in Liberia, it is very painful that you cannot shake hands. If somebody is dying I cannot hug you,” said Crabu.

To make matters worse, once Ebola claims a life, the body is taken immediately, before families have time to mourn their loss, according to Eliza Yee-lai Cheung, a clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Red Cross.

Eliza Yee-lai Cheung (right) a clinical psychologist with the International Federation of the Red Cross, listens as counselors in Monrovia share stories about helping families cope with Ebola

Eliza Yee-lai Cheung (right) a clinical psychologist with the International Federation of the Red Cross, listens as counselors in Monrovia share stories about helping families cope with Ebola. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“They cannot hold a memorial service or burial according to their culture,” said Cheung. “That’s why it’s very hard for them.”

To give psychosocial counselors the tools to help grieving communities, the USAID Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is partnering with IFRC in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. Among other things, the DART and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working to raise public awareness of Ebola’s mode of transmission, teach disease prevention practices to communities, and train health workers and volunteers.

Training materials passed out to counselors will help them train others in the community

Training materials passed out to counselors will help them train others in the community / Dagny Olivares, CDC

In a classroom, 19 people—counselors with the Liberian Red Cross, staff with NGOs and social workers with the Liberian Ministry of Health & Social Welfare—are learning from Crabu and Cheung how to organize culturally appropriate activities to help families cope with their loss. They are also taught ways to keep themselves safe from the virus and how to provide support to each other. This group will then go on to train others in affected communities with the hopes that such efforts will help the country come to grips with Ebola.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Hoff. “But we have a goal. I have a goal. We have to serve our country. We need somebody to take a step to help others move forward. It’s scary, but there’s hope.”

Crises on Four Fronts: Rising to the Call

In a time of unparalleled need, the response from our nation’s humanitarians and our partners has been inspiring. Children and their families trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq are receiving U.S. military airdrops of food and water. In South Sudan, life-saving supplies are arriving by air to vulnerable communities cut off by violence. In West Africa, health workers are fighting the Ebola virus, even at great risk to themselves. And in the refugee camps on the Syrian border, we’re getting children into school so that this devastating crisis doesn’t rob them of their future.

USAID and The World Food Programme providing humanitarian aid to Iraq / USAID

USAID and The World Food Program provide humanitarian aid to Iraq. / USAID

From the Central African Republic to Gaza, from Burma to Yemen, millions of vulnerable people are relying on the life-saving assistance that the United States and our partners provide. Food to revive malnourished children. Hygiene kits to stop the spread of disease. Safe spaces for children to laugh and play.

This is the first time in our Agency’s history that we have been called on to manage four large-scale humanitarian responses at once—in addition to reaching other vulnerable populations worldwide and preparing communities ahead of natural disasters. We are not working alone. We are grateful to our U.N., NGO, and local partners, who have demonstrated exceptional fortitude and compassion in the face of relentless tragedy.

health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body

Due to the outbreak of Ebola virus, health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body. / Jean Louis Mosser, European Commission DG ECHO

They are epidemiologists who have flown into the epicenter of one of the world’s deadliest diseases to help track its spread. They’re logisticians who are coordinating with the U.S. military to airdrop food and water to families stranded on Mount Sinjar. They’re engineers who have helped design displaced persons camps so that women and girls can walk around at night without risking their lives. They’re doctors who are staffing clinics where children have arrived riddled with shrapnel or wasted by hunger.

Today, we are able to equip these heroes with new tools and technologies that have dramatically improved our emergency response, including satellite maps to forecast the risk of famine in South Sudan and debit cards that enable families to shop for their own food at local stores in refugee camps on the Syrian border.

USG Humanitarian Assistance to South Sudan

United States Government humanitarian assistance to South Sudan

These crises are far from over. We will continue to work closely with our essential partners, especially our fellow donor nations, to do more to save lives and foster lasting solutions. Despite the challenges, we remain committed to providing help in an emergency—regardless of danger or difficulty. It is one of the most profound expressions of who we are as the American people.

If you would like to contribute, I encourage you to make a monetary donation to a reputable humanitarian organization already working on the ground. Nothing will get there faster or help more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rajiv Shah is USAID Administrator. He tweets from @Rajshah

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