Using Science to Accelerate Progress on Global Health

Speaking at the National Institutes of Health yesterday, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah delivered a compelling vision of global development: that we can accelerate progress on global health by harnessing science, technology, and innovation. 

This vision builds on the science and technology theme in President Obama’s State of the Union Address and his 2012 Budget released Monday, both of which prioritize investments in innovation for domestic growth and security.

The Administrator’s commitment to science, technology, and innovation as key drivers of development is also consistent with the President’s Global Development Policy, which emphasizes broad-based economic growth, democratic governance, game-changing innovations, and sustainable systems for meeting basic human needs. 

There is a long history of innovation driving progress in developing and developed countries alike.  Consider the impacts of the steam engine, electricity, antibiotics, and more recently the Internet and cell phones, on human wellbeing and economic development.  Specifically in global health, previous U.S. Government investments in innovation have led to high-impact results: new vaccines and vaccine delivery devices, oral rehydration therapy, and distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets have all led to dramatic improvements in quality of life for people around the world.  And in addition to the human benefits, it’s important to note that these innovations have increased the efficiency of our investments by bringing greater results for each dollar spent.

Administrator Shah described how innovation delivers more than just new technologies; it can bring new ways of doing business.  For example, the President’s Global Health Initiative is freeing up resources by integrating parallel systems of care—such as coupling HIV/AIDS treatment with maternal and child health services—to simultaneously cut costs and improve access to care.  Building on this approach, USAID is focusing on recent and emerging scientific, technical, and operational breakthroughs to bend the curve of global health progress in a number of areas: vaccine development and delivery, maternal and child health, malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and health systems. 

It was no coincidence that Administrator Shah chose to bring his message to NIH staff.  Many of the breakthroughs USAID will rely on to improve global health will involve past or ongoing research by the NIH and other Federal science agencies. USAID’s CAPRISA 004 microbicide announcement, for example, involved an NIH-supported research facility.  Administrator Shah’s address—the first-ever given by a sitting USAID Administrator to NIH staff at-large—reinforced the importance and opportunity of connecting Federal research with real-time global development challenges and using America’s unique strengths in science, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress toward practical solutions around the world. 

USAID’s commitment to science, technology, and innovation as a cost-effective path to accelerate progress in global health is supported by history and leverages one of the core strengths of the United States.  Kudos to Administrator Shah and his staff at USAID for their leadership on this issue.

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