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Principles in Action: Innovation and Partnerships Spur Global Health Legislation

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As elements of the Obama Administration’s foreign assistance reform initiatives begin to be implemented—from the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review to the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development—Congress is moving forward with legislation in a range of development-related sectors that embrace principles of reform.

MFAN will be taking a closer look at these pieces of legislation, through the perspective of our Partners, and, more broadly, how reform is affecting the way policymakers think about development issues. See below for the first piece in this recurring series.

Partnerships for innovation

A Guest Blog Post by Aaron Emmel, Government Affairs Officer

PATH

Last month US Representatives Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) introduced a new bill, the 21st Century Global Health Technology Act (H.R.2144). In addition to supporting innovation at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the bill also promotes transparency and accountability by providing legislative authority for some of USAID’s work in this area and by directing the agency to provide annual reports to Congress on its global health research and development activities.  The bill also calls for these activities to be aligned with a global development strategy, to help ensure a more efficient and coherent structure for US foreign assistance.

Innovation has been a key platform of foreign assistance reform. A foundation principle of the Global Health Initiative strategy, for example, is “accelerating results through research and innovation,” and USAID has promoted innovation through its new Office of Science and Technology, Development Innovation Ventures, and Grand Challenges for Development.

USAID’s strategy for its child survival programs, in particular, is based on supporting the development, implementation, and scale up of evidence-based, high-impact interventions, along with developing and evaluating ways to reach underserved families and sustainably strengthening health systems.

This emphasis is due to the fact that innovation is critical to USAID’s mission, particularly in global health. Simple new technologies can make it easier, safer, and cheaper to get vaccines, drugs, and other interventions to the people who need them. The vaccine vial monitor, a sticker printed on vial labels that changes color when exposed to heat over time, lets health workers in areas where there may not be electricity for refrigeration, or vaccines have to be delivered by bicycle, that vaccines have not been spoiled by heat.

Innovation is also a key part of reform because it can cut costs. UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimate that the use of vaccine vial monitors could save up to $5 million per year globally in vaccine wastage costs. An added bonus is that in addition to being a driver of development, innovation is also an engine for American jobs: Temptime, the New Jersey company that makes the monitors, is keeping Americans employed while it exports its product around the world.

One of the key insights of the Sires/Diaz-Balart bill is that partnerships can spur innovation and extend the impact of limited US Government dollars. The bill encourages partnerships between government agencies, with end users and their governments, with the voluntary sector, and with the private sector. Voluntary organizations provide the implementation and laboratory knowledge and the ability to engage end users in designing, testing, and educating their peers about new products. Partner agencies and offices including the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator provide upstream research, clinical trial sites, and other complementary expertise.

The private sector leverages its own expertise, and of course its resources. For the vaccine vial monitors, for example, USAID initiated the project with a relatively small investment and Temptime followed up with millions of dollars more of its own money. This ability to catalyze much larger investments with a small budget is one reason why innovation and partnership are both important parts of the reform agenda during a time of fiscal restraint.

 

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