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USAID @ UNGA: Innovating to Save Lives

Guest Blogger Krista Donaldson
CEO of D-Rev: Design Revolution

Here’s a test.  You have 20 seconds to list the scientific and technological innovations that have had a positive, lasting impact in the developing world since the Marshall Plan.  And be specific – “Green Revolution” is not allowed.

Technology and innovation drive economic growth, and can remarkably increase standards of living.  As USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah notes, innovative products can leapfrog development problems that otherwise might take generations to address.  (Are cell phones near the top of your list?)

D-Rev: Design for the Other 90%, the organization I run, designs and delivers high-quality products to improve peoples’ health and incomes. We are a technology incubator that seeks market-driven solutions to pressing global problems.  The Science, Technology and Innovation Forum on September 22, co-hosted by USAID and the New York Academy of Sciences,will highlight our and other organizations’ innovations that are saving lives and empowering families economically.  Some of the inventions here will be on your list; others should be soon.  D-Rev will showcase a pipeline of low-cost, high-quality medical devices that prevent brain damage in or death of newborns with severe jaundice.

Writing your list, did you pause?  There are many organizations solving pressing problems with innovative technology and design thinking: iTeach is improving healthcare in KwaZulu-Natal by working in public hospitals and with traditional healers; KickStart’s treadle pumps in East Africa are growing a new middle class; Samasource is building capacity by outsourcing work to poor communities and refuge camps; and the Aquaya Institute is bringing clean water to Asia and Africa through sustainable for-profit business models.  But still there is work to do. The lists of breakthrough products and approaches must be longer, because innovation in our globalized age can address most – if not all – of the Millennium Development Goals.  Three things, however, need to happen for organizations to successfully launch successful products.

Technological innovation drives economic growth and increased standards of living so that societies can address their own development issues.

STI development cycle: Technological innovation drives economic growth and increased standards of living so that societies can address their own development issues.

  1. Donors must be agile. Innovation in development is like innovation anywhere – it requires investor agility and risk-taking.  To move products faster from the labs to the market, and scale successes from communities to countries, we need condensed funding cycles that promote action and rapid iteration starting at the seed stage.
  2. Design is not just about the product. It is critical to support the work surrounding the design of the product: ensuring user needs are understood, and what is required to sustainably deliver and scale the product.  Too many products aimed at development never seem to go anywhere.  They might be donated, installed – and then never used. For example, seed funds are needed to understand users, environments, existing solutions, markets, delivery and repair infrastructures, scaling potential – before a product is designed.

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This Week at USAID – July 26, 2010

Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Management Drew Luten will testify before the Commission on Wartime Contracting on Subcontracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administrator Shah and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will appear before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations for an oversight hearing on corruption in Afghanistan.

Chief Innovation Officer Maura O’Neill will participate in a briefing entitled: Innovation to Catalyze Development: Leveraging Research in Foreign Assistance, which is organized by the Global Health Technologies Coalition and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

Administrator Shah will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere about: The Crisis in Haiti: Are We Moving Fast Enough?  He will also brief the Congressional Black Caucus about efforts in Haiti.

Long-Term Investments to Bring Real-Life Improvements to People of Pakistan

A summary map on the activities announced or underway in Pakistan.

During Dr. Raj Shah’s whirlwind two-day visit to Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the ongoing Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, the U.S. announced more than $500 million in new development assistance for Pakistan. 

The new projects include the completion of two hydroelectric dams in South Waziristan and Gilgit-Baltistan that will supply more than 34 megawatts of additional power to 280,000 residents in those areas, the renovation and construction of three medical facilities, economic growth programs and seven projects to improve water distribution and efficiency in the country. Much of the assistance will be delivered by USAID.

The United States shares with Pakistan a vision of a future in which all people can live safe, healthy, and productive lives. Dr. Shah spoke with press about USAID’s role in Pakistan, saying that “Our commitment is broad and deep,” and one that encompasses programs ranging from health and energy to economic growth and agriculture. 

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Dr. Raj. Shah Attends Launch of Pakistan’s Birthspacing Initiative

Dr. Raj Shah at the launch of the Pakistan Ministry of Health’s new Birthspacing Initiative to Improve Maternal, Newborn, Infant and Child Mortality. Photo by Amy Koler.

The U.S. and Pakistan have consulted closely on the shared objectives of addressing Pakistan’s National Health Policy, which outlines the priorities for the nation, which include family planning, maternal and child health, workforce development, and combating infectious diseases to meet the Millennium Development Goals. 

On Sunday, Dr. Shah attended the launch of the Pakistan Ministry of Health’s new Birthspacing Initiative to Improve Maternal, Newborn, Infant  and Child Mortality.  “Overall, (the strategy) will help ensure that pregnancies occur at the healthiest times of women’s lives.  Specifically, it will help reduce high risk pregnancies – those that occur at too late or too early an age, or too soon after a previous pregnancy – through greater use of birth spacing services,” he said.

The Obama administration recognizes that the key to improving health is to strengthen country and local ownership, especially at the community level. ” We know that strong national leadership and capacities are essential for development progress.  Health systems can only thrive where there is wise leadership investing in people, institutions and infrastructure; particularly where governments are responsive and accountable to their citizens. 

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In Mozambique, Religious Leaders Unite Together Against Malaria

PIRCOM has trained more than 21,000 religious leaders from a variety of faiths on malaria prevention and treatment.

Left unchecked, disease imperils the stability and prosperity of all; therefore, improving global health out­comes is a shared responsibility. This means reaching out to community elders, leaders, and religious groups to ensure the quality and reach of health services and messages.

Religious leaders, along with their well-established networks of volunteers and community groups, have the potential to promote and sustain positive changes in the social norms, attitudes, and behaviors of their communities, which can affect development outcomes. Thus the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) engages religious leaders to facilitate greater partnership in, as well as ownership of, a community’s development.

Over the past few years, malaria and other global health programs have increased support to grassroots health movements within faith communities. In addition to promoting health-seeking behaviors, these programs have helped bridge cultural and religious divides.  One such initiative, the Together Against Malaria (TAM) program, arose in 2006 from the common vision of national leaders from 10 faith communities in Mozambique to use their religious organizations to disseminate malaria control messages and commodities. 

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Focusing on Quality Assurance for Malaria Diagnostics

By Alison Bird. A nurse in a local clinic in Huambo Province, Angola, checks a patient and her baby before prescribing anti-malarial drugs. The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), led by USAID, supports countries in their efforts to scale up access to malaria diagnostics to ensure proper diagnosis of illness.

Maria José Inés, chief nurse at the Benfica Baixa Health Center in the city of Huambo in Angola, has seen many patients with fever over the years and treated countless malaria patients. In many parts of Africa, a majority of fevers have been more likely due to other pathogens than with malaria parasites, underscoring the need for proper malaria diagnosis.  Now even in highly malarious areas where effective prevention is decreasing the malaria burden this is also becoming the case. 

The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), led by USAID and implemented jointly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), supports countries in their efforts to scale up access to malaria diagnosis, in line with the recently revised World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, including focusing on quality assurance for malaria diagnostics, training in proper use of the diagnostics tests at all levels of the health care system, including community health workers, and information, education and communication materials IEC/BCC to assure that health care workers and patients use the test results as part of more effective management of fever cases. 

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This Week at USAID – July 12, 2010

Today is the six-month commemoration of the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Administrator Shah just returned from a trip to Haiti and issued a statement to mark the commemoration.

USAID is hosting a conference entitled Transforming Development through Science, Technology and Innovation.  The conference is co-hosted with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the President’s Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren.  Participants include many of the world’s leading scientists and development thinkers, along with leaders of key federal science agencies who will help map out USAID’s bold new science, technology and innovation agenda.

USAID radio drama informs return in Uganda

Regaining its footing after a quarter century of conflict, northern Uganda is bustling with activity. Communities are working to restore local infrastructure and citizens are going about the business of rebuilding homes and lives. However the political reality is that the political leadership wanted to expedite the return process while also provide people with crucial information to returnees so they could make informed decisions about their lives.

Radio is not only the most reliable source of information for returning communities but also serves as the medium of choice to access the information people are seeking. However radio stations also have a limited ability to deliver the kind of content needed.

To encourage people to return and help them with their rebuilding efforts, the Lamele Theatre Artists, in collaboration with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, spearheaded the production of a radio drama. Ajing Conga, Bila Pa Ladwar (I Will Strengthen My Knees – The Song of a Hunter) focuses on three families that have returned to northern Uganda and are grappling to rebuild their lives. The show is providing returnees with crucial information on education, health, culture, security, and governance.

Three stations aired the 72 episodes of the radio drama three times a week. Once the production finished, the Lamele Theater Artists took the show on the road and performed skits live in villages. The shows, some of which were revised, were well received by northern Ugandans who were able to identify with the challenges and issues portrayed.

This Week at USAID – July 6, 2010

At a forum organized by Global Washington and hosted by Seattle University, Maura O’Neill, USAID’s Counselor for Innovation, will participate in a discussion about Washington State’s contribution to the global development sector and will offer recommendations for improving the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance.

Administrator Shah will join Secretary Clinton at the State Department to address the 2009-2010 Jefferson Science Fellows.  The ten Fellows are tenured professors assigned for one year at State and USAID.  Their universities contribute to the success of this public-private partnership.

USAID will be recognizing World Population Day on July 11th.  USAID’s Family Planning program is one of the success stories in U.S. development assistance.  Since the launch of the program in 1965, families are better able to feed, clothe, educate, and provide health care for their children.

Insecticide-treated Mosquito Nets Save Lives

Men ferry bales of ITNs across a river during a net distribution campaign in Nimba County, Liberia. PMI has purchased millions of nets for distribution throughout Africa.

In Africa, malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes that bite predominantly at night. Therefore, sleeping under an insecticide-treated net (ITN) can greatly reduce the risk of infection because ITNs repel mosquitoes and kill those that land on them. Increasing ownership and use of ITNs is a key component of President Malaria Initiative’s (PMI’s) prevention strategy. Launched in 2005, PMI is led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). PMI is a key part of the Administration’s Global Health Initiative to help partner countries achieve major advances in health by working smarter, building on past successes and learning from past challenges. 

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