Kaitlin Christenson is the Director of the Global Health Technologies Coalition.
Today, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) celebrates 50 years of leadership and expertise in addressing development challenges to improve lives across the globe. Since it launched, USAID has had a rich history of supporting global health, including research and development (R&D). Some of the major breakthroughs in global health that USAID has supported include:
- Oral rehydration therapy (ORT). ORT, a treatment for diarrhea, is credited with saving tens of millions of children’s lives. USAID began supporting this effort in the 1960s. In 1979, USAID made the largest donor investment in the establishment of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, where scientists continue to conduct important R&D to improve ORT.
- Eradicating smallpox. In 1966, USAID joined the global effort to eradicate smallpox, a contagious disease that killed more than 300 million people in the 20th century. In the same decade that USAID began to fight the disease, 10 million to 15 million people contracted the disease a year, and more than 2 million people died from it. Through investing in research that adapted the mechanics of US military jet injectors for application of the smallpox vaccine, USAID played a critical role in achieving global eradication of the disease.
- Funding research for tools to help women. USAID funded research to develop the Uniject™ injection system, a tool that delivers the drug oxytocin to help reduce excessive bleeding during the third stage of childbirth. More recently, USAID has ramped up efforts to combat HIV by funding research for microbicide gels, a tool that has the potential to help women protect themselves from the virus. Through investing in a groundbreaking trial held at the Centre for the AIDS Programme Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), USAID played a critical role in supporting the first proof-of-concept trial that showed a microbicide can protect women against HIV and herpes.
USAID’s commitment to global health R&D remains strong today. In fact, USAID is a vital partner to many GHTC members. USAID and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) have been in a cooperative agreement since 2006 to accelerate the discovery of an AIDS vaccine. USAID also supports the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance) in its effort to develop better drugs to treat tuberculosis (TB). The agency also contributed significant funding to the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP)—a partnership between PATH and the World Health Organization—for its efforts to discover and deliver a new meningitis vaccine. USAID supported a comprehensive analysis of the economic costs of meningitis epidemics, aided efforts to improve meningitis surveillance, and helped to address regulatory issues.
With this strong commitment from USAID, the future of global health R&D will undoubtedly hold many breakthroughs that have the potential to save millions of lives worldwide.