Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rajiv Shah brings new priorities to USAID

The head of USAID is trying to bring some ideas from his former employer; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, into the world of government bureaucracy. Rajiv Shah is trying to put an emphasis on science and technology, and says the era of just giving money to poor countries is over.

From an interview with the Seattle Times, Business of Giving writer Kristi Heim tells us Shah's priorities for USAID.

In January he arrived at an agency that had lost half of its staff and much of its clout over the past 15 years.

Development work had been shifted to private contractors or to the Department of Defense, and many of the best people left USAID, diminishing its "intellectual leadership," he said.

As the new USAID administrator, his job is to help turn that around. The Obama Administration has pledged to double foreign aid, and the agency is now hiring 400 foreign service officers a year, Shah said.

Shah said he will call on companies working in life sciences to focus some of their energy on global health. USAID is spending $63 billion over six years on a Global Health Initiative and is looking for solutions including:

--Vaccines for HIV, TB and malaria
--Longer lasting contraception and microbicides
--Simple diagnostic tools for TB and malaria
--Solutions for transferring health data from remote sites
--Technologies to eliminate the need for temperature control of vaccines

The Global Health Initiative's goals include:

--Reducing pregnancy-related deaths by 30 percent, saving the lives of 360,000 women
--Preventing three million child deaths a year
--Preventing one million deaths from tuberculosis
--Cutting malaria cases by half in sub-Saharan Africa

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