New bill would prompt welcome reforms to US foreign assistance programs, including global health R&D
Last week, Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Karen Bass (D-CA), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the Global Partnerships Act of 2013. The bill is a welcome step to reform the US government’s foreign assistance programs, including strengthening important aspects of US global health research and development (R&D) efforts.
Throughout the bill, research and innovation to improve health worldwide are highlighted as central components of US foreign assistance programs. For instance:
- Harnessing research, innovation and technology is included as one of the key elements of a new global health sector strategy required by the legislation. In addition to a new overarching Global Development Strategy, the bill would require strategies for all of the major foreign assistance sectors, such as global health, every four years.
- R&D for new health technologies and solutions is prioritized in the legislation as one of four programmatic health areas the bill would support. The others are: maternal health and child survival; family planning and reproductive health; and combating disease.
- Research for new technologies is also highlighted as essential to the overall success of US foreign assistance programs.
- The bill includes strong support for public-private partnerships, such as nonprofit groups that develop global health vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other products.
- Finally, the bill would establish a $50 million per year Innovation Fund at the US Agency for International Development. The fund would support “innovative projects and evidence-based solutions that may be tested, replicated, and scaled up in partner countries to significantly improve development outcomes,” including global public health.
The bill provides a promising future for US foreign assistance programs—an effort that reflects former Rep. Howard Berman’s (D-CA) legacy in foreign aid policy (Rep. Berman introduced the same bill before he departed Congress at the end of 2012). The bill rightly places research and innovation at the crux of the global health sector, and provides guidance for needed reforms to the US foreign assistance system. As Rep. Connolly said when releasing the bill, “It is time for a complete overhaul of the way we administer foreign aid. The 21st century requires a foreign aid program that recognizes today’s priorities and streamlines the process in the post-Cold War era.”
Congress should unquestionably move this legislation forward and introduce a Senate companion bill. However, given that Congress hasn’t made much traction on most pieces of legislation in the past few years, the Partnership Act’s fate isn’t clear. It’s also possible that sections of this legislation may spin off into their own separate bills and see success. The important thing is to keep the congressional dialogue around foreign aid reform going, and not to lose momentum for urgently needed reforms and improvements.