USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Innovation

Investing in High-impact, Low-cost Innovations that Save Lives

Dr. Christopher J. Elias is president and CEO of PATH, an international nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health.

A new mother experiencing excessive bleeding after childbirth can die within minutes if the bleeding isn’t stopped. For women in developing countries, time too often runs out before they can get help. Postpartum hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal mortality—deaths that cause a ripple effect on the children, families, and communities left behind.

What if a simple device costing less than $10 could save a new mother’s life? USAID is building on its decades-long partnership with PATH by investing in our effort to develop a cost-effective solution: a balloon tamponade that can stop postpartum bleeding within 5 to 15 minutes and can be used in peripheral health facilities.

With a new grant of approximately $100,000 from Development Innovation Ventures—USAID’s new venture capital–style fund—we will adapt this existing technology to make it affordable in developing countries. Our goal is to lower the price from as much as $312 per device to less than $10 by streamlining the design and manufacturing process.

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USAID’s Frontlines – June/July 2011

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories focusing on the Agency’s work in Science and Technology and Climate Change:

  • The United States is helping developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve their resilience to the effects of climate change
  • Warns Vermont’s Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy: “We are facing a global environmental crisis that may be catastrophic for future generations …”
  • With Peru’s tropical glaciers melting fast due to rising greenhouse gas emissions, soaring temperatures and erratic rainfall, USAID and its partners are working quickly to mitigate the damage and help Peruvians adapt
  • John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, says there are both great challenges and great opportunities today to use science, technology and innovation to introduce improvements to the developing world
  • In trying to predict future trends – foresight research is the technical term – USAID experts look closely at several factors to improve the odds that Agency programs will have the desired impacts now and withstand the tests of time

Read these stories and much more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you want to receive an e-mail reminder when the latest issue has been posted online, subscribe here.

World TB experts convene, work to blaze the trail to slow disease spread

As featured in Science Speaks by Meredith Mazzotta

“As you and I both know, people that dedicate their lives to global health are special,” said U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah at the opening session of the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board Meeting, taking a moment to recognize the passing of his colleague, former USAID Tuberculosis (TB) Team Lead Susan Bacheller. He then asked for a moment of silence in her honor.

“She is deeply missed.”

Shah addressed an audience of physician-scientists, industry representatives, advocates and government officials that make up the Stop TB Partnership Coordinating Board, in addition to the ministers of health from Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. Shah commented on the current status of TB control efforts around the world, noting that, “we won’t meet the overall Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) unless we make some fundamental changes,” he said.

Part of the 6th MDG is to have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of major infectious diseases including tuberculosis.

“We need to take some bold actions and risks and introduce new innovations, new technologies, new drug regimens and new ways of working to reach the outcomes that we all seek,” Shah said.

The changes he highlighted were the need for new technologies in diagnostics and treatment including for drug-resistant forms of TB. He noted that the development and deployment of the Gene Xpert rapid TB test is encouraging, but continues to be quite costly. He encouraged the audience to think about what types of strategies might exist to try to introduce these diagnostics to better understand their value and performance in the field, while looking for opportunities to reduce their cost.

The reality of treatment targets, Shah said, is our ability to reach them or not to reach them is not tied to our immediate budget, “but rather if we can continue on the path to reduce the cost per unit of treatment.  I hope we will greatly exceed these targets,” even in an environment where we are facing serious constraints on our ability to invest, here and abroad, he said. Using efficiency gains to achieve and exceed new targets, Shah said, could make a much stronger case for future investment in TB as a means of furthering overall global health targets.

Assistant U.S. Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh noted that even the U.S. still sees 11,000 cases of TB every year.  “We had a goal of eliminating TB in the U.S. by 2010 and we have not reached that goal,” he said, adding that the health of every nation affects the overall health of the globe.

During a question and answer session with an extended panel, Lesotho Minister of Health Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng listed her thoughts on the three most important unmet needs inhibiting real progress against tuberculosis. First, she cited the need for diagnostic and other technologies that can be used across diseases. For example, “there is work underway with the Gene Xpert so that it also can be used to detect [sexually transmitted infections] and other diseases,” she said. Gene Xpert developer FIND announced in February that the company was investigating potential rapid HIV viral load measurement to be added to the current machine. Ramatlapeng also noted the need for fixed-dose combination drug regimens, “because they will make life very easy for all involved,” and better access to drugs as key to success in fighting TB.

When asked how the ministers were addressing the spread of TB among the mine workers in Lesotho and South Africa, Ramatlapeng said she is working with the World Bank to convene a meeting with the ministers responsible for natural resources and mining, as well as the ministers of finance to more holistically address how to move ahead.

Other future goals in TB control mentioned at the meeting included ensuring successful roll out of new technologies to those who need them most, access to health systems to ensure new cases are detected as early as possible, achieving the most value for investment, and making certain that TB is a party of primary health care that is universally accessible.

Administrator Shah Delivers a TED Talk on Leveraging Science and Technology in Development

Administrator Rajiv Shah delivering a TED Talk in Long Beach. Photo Credit: Dan Shine/USAIIn the world of science and technology, we crave for the new and the different.  Innovation is described as applied invention sometimes, but true innovation creates an emotion when you’re exposed to it.  It’s a combination of fascination and an urgent instinct to share what you’ve just experienced with others.

I just finished day one of the annual TED conference in Long Beach, and amongst the sharing of breakthroughs in quantum mechanics, the relationship between policy and emotion, and a virtual choir, the audience got a chance to hear from USAID Administrator Raj Shah.

He described how we are changing the way USAID approaches aid, highlighting innovations in healthcare delivery, mobile banking, and the prevention of HIV transmission.  He focused on how important leveraging these science and technology game-changers has become, and provided a strong vision for the future.

This is a tough crowd.  TED prides itself on showing us things not seen before.  From us, they saw USAID’s innovative vision and Raj’s passion, and from all the conversations and excitement that ignited following his talk, it’s clear they were intently excited and inspired about what they saw.  Just as importantly, millions more will have access to that vision when his talk makes it’s way to www.ted.com.

Supporting U.S. Global Development Objectives through Private Sector Partnerships

By: Matthew Corso, USAID

USAID recently released the 2011 Global Development Alliance (GDA) Annual Program Statement (APS).  The 2011 GDA APS captures and conveys the Administration’s commitment to partnering with the private sector in support of U.S. global development objectives.

The intention for this APS is to encourage conversations between the private sector and USAID that may produce innovative, sustainable partnerships around the world to meet both business goals and USAID development objectives.  Since 2001, USAID has cultivated over a 1,000 public-private alliances with over 3,000 individual partners contributing billions of dollars in combined public-private resources in most of the 90 countries in which USAID operates.  In fact, on average, every dollar USAID commits to partnerships leverages nearly three and half private sector dollars – a significant return on taxpayer’s investment in a time of tight budgets.

USAID is committed to continuing to improve the ways in which we implement our foreign assistance mandate through broader collaboration with new partners.  No longer are governments, international organizations, and multilateral development banks the only assistance donors.  The U.S. Government recognizes an exciting opportunity to enhance the impact of its development assistance by improving and extending collaboration with a range of private sector partners, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private voluntary organizations (PVOs), cooperatives, faith-based organizations, foundations, corporations, financial institutions, the higher education community, and even individuals (including remittances from Diaspora communities).

Potential alliance partners are expected to bring significant new resources, ideas, technologies, and/or local partners to address significant development challenges in the countries in which USAID is currently working.  Innovative GDAs in support of Agency-wide initiatives such as food security and nutrition, global health, global climate change, water, science and technology and innovation are especially encouraged.

USAID has much to offer to its partners, with its unique mandate within the U.S. Government and long-term experience with, and access to, host-country governments and economies. The Agency is able to capitalize on its extensive field presence and network of local development partners and technical expertise to convene, catalyze, integrate, coordinate, promote, facilitate and invest in public-private alliances. However, such alliances have the potential for not only mobilizing additional resources for development worldwide, but also promoting greater effectiveness and impact on the problems of poverty, disease, and inadequate education, depletion of natural resources, crime, and limited economic opportunity throughout the developing world.

50th Anniversary: The Program of Scientific and Technological Cooperation

John Daily is the former director of the Office of Research. He worked for USAID from 1976 to 1997. He is now retired. Photo Credit: John Daly/USAID

The Program of Science and Technology Cooperation broke ground for USAID. It may have also, been premature.

PSTC introduced biotechnology to developing nations, directed attention both to personal computers and the Internet, pioneered in the protection of biodiversity, and indirectly strengthened the role of science at USAID. Created by a Democratic administration, supported through the following two Republican administrations, and abolished during another Democratic administration, PSTC was deliberately insulated from many USAID procedures.

Back when the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) took place in 1979, I served as Deputy Director of the USAID Office and as the Agency’s liaison for the Conference planning.

The Conference raised global interest in science and technology as development tools, directing attention specifically to the needs to strengthen research and development of new technologies to meet the needs of the poor. However, it took place in the midst of demands by poor nations in the United Nations for a New International Economic Order in which economic power shifted from donors to recipient nations. The Conference resulted in a resolution calling for a billion dollar fund for S&T under control of a new UN body. While that organization was created, it never received nearly the proposed funding and was abolished after several years of work.

Although there were once plans to create an independent government Agency in the field of science and technology cooperation, Congress only approved a Program, the PSTC,  with the proviso that it be located within USAID. The first year funding (FY1980) was $12 million, with additional funding each subsequent year until the 1990s.

Under the Reagan administration, the PSTC was chartered to fund more innovative and collaborative scientific and technological efforts than had been supported by USAID previously. It was seen as complementary to established USAID efforts such as its support for the International Agricultural Research Centers and its support for development of technologies related to family planning and tropical diseases. PSTC introduced peer-reviewed small research grants for innovative scientific research to the foreign assistance program.

Most of the resources for the program were devoted to these research grants.

Networks were created to carry out research on selected problems: diagnosis and epidemiology of acute respiratory infections in children, rapid epidemiological assessment methods, mosquito vector field studies, tropical trees, and biological nitrogen fixation (to reduce the need for expensive fertilizers)

Individual grants were also made in a number of research areas including biotechnology and immunology, and chemistry for world food needs.

The program received thousands of research proposals over the years of its existence; hundreds were funded – too many to describe in this brief statement. A few examples might give a flavor of what was accomplished:

  • Pneumonias were and are a major cause of death in young children. Those caused by bacteria often respond to antibiotics, but antibiotics don’t help patients with viral pneumonia. When the network studying the epidemiology of respiratory disease was created, the frequencies of the specific viral and bacterial agents causing pneumonia in developing nations was unknown. Taking advantage of newly available diagnostic reagents, the NRC made 14 grants to teams in Africa, Asia and Latin America, creating a network to improve understanding of the epidemiology of pneumonias. Considerable attention was given to standardizing the research techniques among countries. A special issue of a major journal was published with results from the network’s studies, and the World Health Organization revised its guidelines for treatment of pneumonias in developing countries based significantly on the network’s findings.
  • The PSTC biotechnology programs were probably the first significant source of funding for biotechnology research in developing nations, helping to begin establishing capacity to use the new techniques in biomedical and crop research. Some of the results were impressive. For example, Joanna Dobereiner, a Brazilian scientist, used advanced techniques to study nitrogen fixing organisms. She showed that they existed in conjunction not only with legumes but also with grasses. Her most spectacular results were observed with some varieties of cane sugar which can produce 200 kg of Nitrogen per hectare from associated nitrogen fixing bacteria, and high yields – above 160 tons per hectare – without nitrogen fertilizer. We learned that these varieties were eventually used widely in Brazil.
  • A small grant allowed Costa Rica to establish an Internet backbone for its universities. NASA connected the Costa Rican backbone via satellite to the global Internet without charge to Costa Rica. The Costa Rican backbone quickly grew into a Central American Internet backbone, and introduced the agency to the Internet – all with a $150 thousand investment.
  • A grant to Indian meteorologists, supplemented by access to supercomputers donated by the NOAA’s National Weather Service, allowed collaboration on the study of the Indian monsoon, and introduced the Agency to the study of climate.

Often the researchers worked under extremely difficult conditions. Perhaps the most severe were those faced by a team studying biodiversity in Rwanda. When the holocaust occurred in that country, the principal investigator of the PSTC project was able to walk to the Kenyan coast, and his American collaborator arranged for his further travel to the U.S. He worked in his partner’s lab in the United States until it was safe for him to return to Rwanda. His team of fieldworkers took all the materials and data that had been gathered into their homes and continued to work there during the crisis. A number of other activities were also conducted under the program. For example, the NRC conducted a number of meetings to discuss S&T priorities, publishing findings under the imprimatur of the National Academy Press. A conference in 1982 focused on biotechnology, leading to the PSTC priority programs mentioned above as well as to initiatives in other organizations. A set of four publications in the 1980s on microcomputer policy and applications in developing nations was widely influential. The Press also published a number of monographs on under-exploited resources of potential economic value to developing nations.

The program also provided the core funding for a cooperative agreement with the American Association for the Advancement of Science which allowed offices in USAID to offer fellowships for post-doctoral scientists to work in USAID for a year or two in order to learn about international development. Hundreds of scientists eventually participated in this program including Kerry Ann Jones, currently Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science and Jill Conley, currently managing the international program for the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute. Some others, such as David O’Brien, remained in USAID as career officers.

Thus, PSTC served as a model for other projects. Lessons learned during the PSTC’s years of operations were applied not only in other offices of USAID but in other agencies. However, PSTC may have been created before its time. When the program was started in 1980, developing nations had relatively little scientific capacity and the opportunities for collaboration were limited. Today, according to the latest figures from UNESCO, there are 2.7 million researchers in developing nations compared with 1.4 million in the United States; almost one-third of the world’s scientific publications are produced in developing countries, compared with one-fifth in the United States.

Now there are good opportunities for true collaboration between American and developing country researchers in almost all areas of science. Moreover, the importance of technological innovation in economic development is much more widely recognized in developing as well as developed nations. Today a reinvented PSTC might be even more successful.

2010: A Year in Review

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

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

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

Improving Rural Livelihoods by Empowering African Women Researchers in Agricultural Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

200 Years of Global Health in 4 Minutes

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

Photo Credit: Ryan Cherlin/USAID

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

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

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

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

Digital Birth Control On Your iPhone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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