At a time when global health responses are threatened by budget-cutting fever, a “deficit neutral” bill proposed by Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) would create a comprehensive strategy to get the most out of a government investment with some of the biggest returns: global health research and development.
The 21rst Century Global Health and Technology Act would codify the existing role of the United States Agency for International Development in global health research, recognize its unique role in identifying needs for new global health technologies as well as facilitating their use, and make the most of the agency’s position, to coordinate global health research and development by other U.S. agencies.
The result, a statement from Rep. Sires said, will “encourage the development of health products that are affordable, culturally appropriate, and easy to use in low-resource health systems.”
By formalizing the role that USAID has long played in initiating, implementing and supporting the use of global health research and development, the enactment of the bill would help to ensure that global health research and development work is responsive to observed needs, PATH senior policy advisor Heather Ignatius said. PATH worked to support the development of the bill.
Formalizing that role is particularly important now, a time of increasing movement to invest in global health research and development, by public and private sector entities, Ignatius said. While other U.S. agencies are involved in the search for medical and technological solutions to global health issues, their primary focus is not on the needs of low-income countries, nor are they as well-placed to see what products are needed in those environments, Ignatius said.
USAID, the bill’s text notes, “calls health research ‘integral’ to its ability to achieve its health and development objectives worldwide.” USAID’s Health Technologies program supports developing answers that make the most of limited resources, and to make sure those who need technologies and medicines developed for those settings have access to them, the bill notes.
The bill seeks to ensure the sustainability of the Health Technologies by putting it into law, direct the USAID administrator to incorporate global health research and development into each of its global health programs and establish a system to measure their success, continue the role of the agency’s relatively new Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact to introduce and increase the use of global health technologies, and to give USAID a coordinating role, working with other agencies involved in global health research and development towards a comprehensive government strategy.
USAID was the lead agency in developing oral rehydration therapy which was the first successful answer to deaths from childhood diarrhea diseases, and was the lead in a recent public-private partnership that produced a vaccine vial monitor to ensure that vaccines had been stored at appropriate temperatures. These measures have saved, and continue to save global health dollars, Ignatius said.
“We need to invest in the emergency response and we also need to scale up interventions that we know work. At the same time we need to be investing in new technologies that will help us overcome health challenges, ” she said.