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Opinions: Genetically-Modified Crops Can Improve Vaccines; MDG Focus On Women And Girls; U.S. Leadership For MDGs; Boosting Access To Drugs; Merits Of Bilateral Development Assistance « » The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Opinions: Genetically-Modified Crops Can Improve Vaccines; MDG Focus On Women And Girls; U.S. Leadership For MDGs; Boosting Access To Drugs; Merits Of Bilateral Development Assistance

‘Hysteria Over Genetically-Modified Crops’ Hampers Vaccine Improvement

“The U.N. estimates that diarrheal diseases kill 1.8 million people every year. … So you might take it as good news that American company Ventria Bioscience says it has hit on an improvement to existing rehydration therapies, which could mean another tool in the fight against diarrhea,” according to a Wall Street Journal editorial examining the delays the company has experienced since it first sought to have its product approved by the FDA back in 2004, even “[a]fter a panel of food, medicine, immunology, child nutrition and health experts had declared its product safe.”

The piece explores what the newspaper refers to as “the root of Ventria’s problems” – “the hysteria over genetically modified crops. … Though millions of Americans have been ingesting genetically modified produce for years with no discernible harm, the World Health Organization and the European Commission continue to call for caution, citing risks such as contamination of other crops and damage to human DNA.” The editorial notes another example of how genetically-engineered rice could help improve the shelf-life of a cholera vaccine without need for refrigeration, and how fears over such technology could limit company’s ability to deliver their products to populations most in need (9/21).

MDGs Offer An Opportunity To Focus On Women And Girls

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provide an opportunity “to focus on ensuring basic rights and access to health services for women and girls,” writes Janet Fleischman, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Global Health Policy Center, in an allAfrica.com opinion piece. “The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, which has made women and girls a cornerstone of its Global Health Initiative, should seize the opportunity to turn these enlightened MDG goals into effective policies and programs, by making global health, development and gender interlinked components of foreign policy,” Fleischman writes.

The importance of focusing on women and girls, the author writes, is “evidenced by innovative programs that are addressing the multiple needs of women and girls.” The article examines benefits of one such program, which integrates microfinance with gender and HIV education. Fleischman also offers the following suggestions to the U.S. government for implementing its focus on women and girls: hold government agencies accountable, measure women’s health outcomes, set long-term plans to “build sustainability, encourage innovation, and ensure U.S. global leadership” (9/21).

U.S. Leadership Needed For MDG Progress

Despite “ground-breaking” programs like Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) and reforms at USAID, “the Obama administration has a long way to go to build the architecture that would make U.S. foreign aid more effective and accountable for the 21st century. With budgets tightening and global challenges growing, this is beginning to look like a huge missed opportunity,” Jim Kolbe, senior transatlantic fellow at The German Marshall Fund, and former Republican U.S. Representative from Arizona writes in a Politico opinion piece.

Noting that the GHI is “controlled” by multiple agencies, including USAID, CDC and PEPFAR, the author continues, “this muddled management structure is no way to create the best possible outcomes or implement innovative policies effectively.” According to Kolbe, “[t]he choice is whether our development programs are tied to [the] State [Department's] short-term political necessities, or whether we allow our development agency to lead the way and focus on sustainable, long-term results.”

Kolbe suggests actions the Obama administration can take to “build on momentum” from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) summit: “Say unequivocally that USAID is our lead development agency and give it the authority and resources to envision and implement programs in Washington and in the developing world; create a business plan for operationalizing the MDG strategy and new development policy, making sure that it denotes clear lines of responsibility and accountability for U.S. development efforts; and, pledge to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis to update the Foreign Assistance Act, which has not been overhauled since it was written in 1961” (9/21).  

Restructure Pharmaceutical Development To Reward Creation Of Life-Saving Drugs

“Pharmaceutical research efforts vary with the expected value of the patents that may – or may not – emerge. Two factors are especially important in determining that value: who the patients are and how the drugs are intended to work,” Thomas Pogge and Peter Lindsay, professors at Yale University and Georgia State University, respectively, write in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution opinion piece. Because drug development inevitably focuses on “the name of the game … to make money, not to improve health,” the authors write, “[w]hat we need is a way of unlocking the energy of private enterprise to find and develop new life-saving drugs, drugs that would not only treat illnesses such as malaria, but that would also be affordable to its sufferers worldwide – by and large, the poor.”

The opinion piece examines the idea of creating a Health Impact Fund (HIF), which would reward innovators based on their products’ global health impact. The authors continue, “This is not a plan to rip off the drug companies or to enhance their profits: It is designed to restructure the way that we pay for medicines so as to create incentives to develop the most therapeutically valuable drugs while enabling widespread availability at low prices” (9/21).

Bilateral Development System Failing, Move Toward Pooled Donor Funding

“The traditional system of bilateral development assistance is broken,” writes Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, in a Financial Times opinion piece. Sachs continues, “we must replace the fragmentation of bilateral programmes with a new strategy based on multi-donor pooled funding that has clear timelines, objectives and accountability.”

The author cites multiple large aid commitments by donor countries have gone largely unfulfilled, writing that because pledges are bilateral, they are “hard to monitor and largely unaccountable.” Sachs also cites the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as an “exciting example” that “pools resources from many donor nations, with an independent review board approving national programmes according to scientific and management criteria rather than bilateral politics.”

“We need a major change of funding toward pooled donor funding,” the author concludes, adding that bilateral aid can also remain to “promote demonstration efforts and innovations” (9/20).