Innovation to catalyze development: leveraging research in US foreign assistance

August 10, 2010 by PATH

Congressional briefing highlights research and innovation

“Even the way we change is changing,” said Thomas Kalil, deputy director for policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, during a July 28 congressional briefing. Hosted by the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, the briefing drew nearly 90 people from congressional offices, US government agencies, and the development and global health communities for a discussion about how research and innovation can be leveraged to advance the nation’s foreign assistance goals.

To keep pace in a changing world, US policymakers must capitalize upon the country's strong history of advancing science, research, and innovation to benefit the developing world, Kalil and other panelists noted during the briefing. The United States faces a complex set of new global challenges, and the nation needs a new approach to foreign aid in order to meet these challenges head on. As Congress and the current administration reform the United States' approach to international aid, policymakers must incorporate US agencies' scientific prowess as a key component of our nation’s development strategy.

Whole-of-government approach

Panelists highlighted the crucial role that science and innovation play in foreign aid, with a focus on past successes and future opportunities in global health research. The event was moderated by Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, and included Kalil; Dr. Jeffrey Sturchio, president and CEO of the Global Health Council; Dr. Maura O’Neill, senior counselor to the administrator and chief innovation officer at the US Agency for International Development (USAID); and Dr. Corey Casper, director of the Uganda Program on Cancer and Infectious Diseases at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

To maximize the US’s investment in science and technology and deliver effective assistance, panelists stressed a whole-of-government approach to foreign aid. It is “essential” that the United States has a “coordinated, multidisciplinary” approach to international development, Dr. Casper said. For example, panelists highlighted a study—conducted among nearly 900 women at two sites in South Africa—that showed a notable reduction in the risk of HIV infection associated with an experimental HIV prevention gel, called a microbicide. The research benefited enormously from interagency partnership—the study was supported in large part by USAID, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and demonstrates the type of success possible when US agencies collaborate effectively.

Prioritizing science and innovation

Panelists also highlighted that several US leaders are prioritizing science and innovation as a pillar of international development. For example, Kalil examined how the Administration has made science and innovation priorities for the United States’ international development policy, recently deploying the first three US science envoys throughout the Muslim world to foster scientific exchange. Kalil further highlighted the new leadership from non-development agencies, such as NIH Director Francis Collins’ prioritization of research to meet global health challenges.

In addition, Dr. O’Neill emphasized that USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah has made innovation a priority for the agency. Earlier this year, Shah highlighted science and technology as one of USAID’s four core pillars, noting that the agency will find “new ways to leverage science and technology to develop and deliver those tools and innovations that we believe can lead to exponential growth and transformational change.”

About the GHTC

Housed at PATH and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Health Technologies Coalition includes more than 30 organizations advocating for research and development of tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat global diseases so health solutions are available when populations need them. For more information about the coalition, please see the GHTC website.

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