March 11, 2012

USAID’s Shah continues leadership in science and innovation

Communications Officer

Late last week, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah released his second annual letter, outlining major issues and initiatives that have shaped the agency since its inception 50 years ago. Shah also charts a course forward for USAID, detailing areas that the agency should focus on in the coming years in order to make inroads in international development. One major area of focus is, of course, global health, and Shah rightly emphasizes the role of science, technology, and innovation in meeting USAID’s international health goals.

The health component of the annual letter largely aligns with a recent effort at USAID to improve child survival. “[P]erhaps the most important choice is helping all children live to see their fifth birthday,” Shah writes, adding, “The good news is we have remarkably effective and cheap ways to help children survive.” Many of these methods—from insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria, antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, and vaccines to prevent childhood killers like pneumonia and diarrhea—are available today because scientists and funders like the US Government made a commitment many years ago to develop new tools to fight these diseases. The new tools of yesterday have now become the standard tools to help children survive.

Late last week, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah released his second annual letter, which emphasizes science and innovation.

Shah also highlighted how USAID continues to harness science and research to develop the next generation of new drugs, vaccines, and other technologies to save children’s lives. For instance, USAID’s Savings Lives at Birth initiative provides grants to foster innovative prevention and treatment options for pregnant women and newborns in rural, low-resource settings.

USAID also supports research and development (R&D) for new health tools to benefit not just children, but a wide range of populations. “We’re also increasing our investments in core scientific research and technological innovation at USAID,” the letter reads. “Last year, our support of AIDS vaccine research led to the isolation of 17 novel antibodies that could each hold the key to ending the pandemic.” And just last month, the agency launched a new partnership with US colleges and universities to promote research for global development challenges, including health.

It’s exciting to see that Shah continues, time and again, to recognize how science and innovation can overcome some of the world’s long-standing global health problems. We at the GHTC heard just two weeks ago at our annual Congressional briefing that health R&D produces real results for people at home and abroad. It’s heartening to have a leader at USAID who is so committed to the power of research, and who continues to provide such critical leadership.