U.S. Chief Humanitarian: We Want to Buy Your Health Products For Poor Countries

3/17/10Follow @xconomy

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Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and includes the work of CDC and NIH. But it’s mostly coordinated through USAID. It’s a huge opportunity to build the kinds of health systems that allow people to get access to broad medical services that disproportionately benefit women and girls and kids. It can really affect the efficiency in which we work in countries by being more organized, and coordinated, and in closer partnership with the countries we are trying to serve. I’m very excited about the global health initiative.

X: Is this unusual for someone in your position to do? I’ve not seen a USAID administrator come give a talk at a life sciences investing conference. Did your colleagues in DC think this was a little odd?

RS: It’s probably seen as a little bit unique. I personally believe science and technology, when applied appropriately, can help very poor people lead significantly better lives. We’ve seen that improved agricultural technologies can move whole communities out of poverty, improved water management policies can improve conflict and in some cases, war. Improved drinking water technologies can prevent the need for girls to take risks on long walks at night to get water, and reduce the risk of rape. New medical technologies can save lives. I would like science and technology and the application of it to be a hallmark of USAID’s future.

X: You also said USAID hasn’t always been receptive to partnerships with the private sector. What would be a couple of examples of things you intend to do differently?

RS: Over the last 10 years, USAID has had a strong history of engaging in partnerships. I think we can do those more effectively and efficiently. We should focus on those partnerships that are really about achieving outcomes. In the past, we’ve done too many partnerships that are for the purpose of doing the partnership as opposed to achieving the outcome. And we need to change the way we do our contracting, procurement, and grant-making so that we are easier partners to work with for a broader range of organizations. That’s especially true of NGOs and nonprofit organizations who aren’t the usual suspects in the federal contracting system. Those are the kinds of partners we’d like to do more work with. We need to change the way we do business in order to facilitate that.

X: If you could wave a wand, and harness the life sciences talent in this community around a handful of technologies or problems, what would they be?

RS: We’ll publish a focused, prioritized list of what the challenges are out there. At the top of the list would be effective, safe, easy-to-use vaccines for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. If we can develop those breakthroughs and get them in wide use, that would change the level of suffering around the world in a huge way. That would be the top of my list.

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