New details on US global development, health initiatives unveiled

Science and innovation embraced as key pillars of US approach

The Obama Administration recently unveiled details about its new international development strategy, called the Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) on global development. The PPD calls on the US government to focus on areas where the country can achieve the greatest successes by leveraging key aspects of American expertise.

For example, the United States has long been a leader in science and research, and one component of the PPD aims to seize upon this expertise to meet international development targets. When releasing the PPD at the recent United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, President Obama said that the United States is "expanding scientific collaboration with other countries and investing in game-changing science and technology to help spark historic leaps in development." 

Building upon past achievements

US leaders have historically deployed the transformative power of science and innovation to benefit the needs of populations in the developing world. During a roundtable discussion at last week’s US Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) annual conference, US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah said that "many of the biggest wins in global development," whether the "Green Revolution or saving, literally, millions of kids from diarrheal illness in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa in the ‘70s and ‘80s, came from big technological breakthroughs that our agency and our government helped support, and we want to rebuild that focus on science, technology, and innovation as really a core part of our development strategy going forward." He added that USAID is creating its "own version of a development hub for science, technology, and innovation." Shah was joined by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, and president and CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Daniel Yohannes in a rare appearance together to discuss the new global development policy.  .

Innovation in the Global Health Initiative

Medical innovations have been the major drivers behind some of the greatest advances in global health in the past century, resulting in an average increase in life expectancy of 21 years in low- and middle-income countries between 1960 and 2002 (see World Bank indicators below). Despite these breakthroughs, major disease burdens in the developing world persist, and new health technologies to address these diseases are urgently required. For this reason, policymakers should ensure that science and innovation are key components of any US international health and development effort.

For example, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) has the potential to make vast inroads in health and development worldwide by prioritizing innovation for new medical products. Indeed, the Obama Administration recognized the importance of research and development when it recently released new information on the GHI. According to fact sheets prepared by the White House, the GHI will expand "investments in game-changing innovation by promoting research and development, both in terms of applied science as well as operation and implementation research, to address important questions that are immediately relevant to both GHI and partner country goals and objectives."

There are several promising elements in President Obama’s speech to the United Nations MDG Summit, the new presidential directive on development, and the GHI fact sheets. How these promising elements will be translated into concrete support for global health research and innovation remains to be seen. As US leaders consider how to make the country's global development efforts more effective, they should unquestionably support and elevate global health science and research. In particular:

  • The heads of the GHI and PPD should develop concrete details on how research and innovation for new tools will be incorporated and prioritized.
  • The heads of the GHI should ensure that the initiative's research committee is used as a mechanism to foster collaboration across all US federal agencies engaged in these research and innovation efforts—including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and USAID. 

Harnessing research, science, and innovation for new health tools is central to efforts against global health diseases and make a lasting impact on international development. 

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