Going the Last Mile: Delivering Dramatic, Sustainable Global Health Gains

February 15, 2011 By Christopher Williams

Investments in research and innovation will be essential to meeting the global health challenges of the next decade. In the first speech by a sitting USAID Administrator before the National Institutes of Health(NIH) Dr. Rajiv Shah outlined transformational global health goals to be achieved by 2016. Administrator Shah’s remarks reflected an ambitious program which included saving the lives of over 3 million children, averting 700,000 malaria deaths, and preventing more than 12 million HIV infections, clearly setting a high bar to reach the benchmarks in the Global Health Initiative (GHI).

Administrator Shah highlighted the critical importance of American innovation and invention to alleviating the global health crisis, noting, “We cannot simply seek to do more of the same in an effort to provide services using currently available tools and technologies. Instead, we need to focus our efforts on facilitating a continuum of invention and innovation from bench to bush.” He also recognized the importance of the public-private partnership necessary to win the fight against malaria in the developing world: “We will work with firms to make sure their biomedical products can reach the poorest people in the poorest countries, while recognizing their need to profit.”

Dr. Shah called for a more efficient, coordinated approach toward global health, which would unify the efforts USAID, the US Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and cut costs in order to achieve continued successes in research and development. These achievements include dramatic reductions in malaria, HIV, TB and polio infections that have been accomplished through sustained bipartisan effort in Congress over the past decade, which must be continued to finish the job. Malaria is now poised for removal as a major health problem for sub-Saharan Africa and polio has been all but eradicated.

However, as Administrator Shah pointed out, these gains can quickly reverse without continued commitment and the temptation is to draw back when times are tough. Failure to lead responsibly on global health not only weakens America’s image abroad but undermines social stability in poor nations and creates threats to national security. Despite the difficult budget environment, strong and effective funding for global health research and implementation is imperative if the U.S. intends to meet the ambitious goals outlined today. Dr. Shah put it in the starkest terms as he concluded, “Our choice is clear. We can continue to build a bipartisan legacy or we can unwind that process and put millions of children’s lives at risk.”