The world is on the cusp of science and technology breakthroughs that have the potential to usher in a new decade of global health gains, Alex Dehgan, science and technology advisor at the US Agency for International Development, recently told a Washington, DC, audience. And the United States is playing an integral role in the advance.
Dehgan spoke at an event sponsored by the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) to highlight the need for and role of new global health products, such as vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and microbicides that can prevent HIV infection. The GHTC, housed at PATH, includes almost 40 nonprofit members working to increase awareness of the urgent need for technologies that save lives in the developing world.
The event marked the release of the GHTC’s second annual policy report. The 2011 report outlines promising policy actions taken over the past year to encourage US investments in global health and international development, streamlining regulatory pathways to ensure the safety and efficacy of health tools, and adopting incentives and innovative financing mechanisms to spur development of global health products. The report offers recommendations for ways US policymakers can continue to take the lead in improving health worldwide.
During the event, a high-powered panel discussed recent advances in global health research and policy issues most critical to meeting the future needs of the developing world. Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, was the keynote speaker. In addition to Dehgan, panelists included former US Representative Mike Castle and Elizabeth Bukusi, chief research officer and deputy director at the Kenya Medical Research Institute.
The United States has a long history of supporting medical innovations that have led to breakthroughs in global health, including the development and delivery of lifesaving tools such as vaccines for polio and smallpox and new research for HIV-prevention gels, Dehgan said. In addition to saving lives, Jones stressed that the global health research supported by the United States benefits its national security. Infectious diseases “know no bounds,” Jones said, adding that by helping to secure a healthier world, the United States is preventing disease within its borders.
Castle said that because of the country's long history of public health successes, medical research has many bipartisan champions in Congress. “I do feel if there is an area of a little more unification than most, it's in support of public health and medical research,” he said. “People understand that keeping people well is pretty good politics.” According to Castle, medical research has garnered bipartisan support in Congress for another key reason: it helps to create US jobs and boost economic activity.
Speakers also stressed the importance of partnerships in advancing research for new health tools. According to Jones, it is critical to involve all players—including the government, nonprofit organizations, civil society, and the private sector—in global health research and product development. “The issues of global health are not addressed in isolation. The solutions can only be found in global partnership,” she said. “Our approach to health diplomacy is to be engaged with ministries of health, science, and education, and others in government, but also to involve partners through the public and private sector that look for solutions and new approaches.”
Bukusi told the audience that based on her experience in Kenya, advances in global health research unquestionably mean more lives are saved. Through the development and delivery of new health tools—such as microbicide gels to prevent HIV infection—innovation and science “can have an impact” and “give us hope,” Bukusi said.
She added that she is also dedicated to training younger researchers in Kenya. The researchers she trains, Bukusi said, will help others. “As one person,” she said, “there are a limited number of people I can reach.” Through scientific training and medical capacity building, she said, “drops of water can become a very mighty ocean.”
The event documented that the United States is making a difference in the health of people at home and abroad by supporting science and research and the US agencies that conduct this critical work. “We need tools to help us fight disease no matter where it is,” Dehgan said.