On May 23 the Middle East Program, ECSP, and the Global Health Initiative of the Woodrow Wilson Center, along with the Global Health Technical Assistance Project, hosted a panel of speakers discussing the past 30 years of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s health and population initiatives in Egypt, as outlined in the new Egypt Health and Population Legacy Review. Geoffrey Dabelko, director of ECSP and coordinator of the Global Health Initiative at the Wilson Center, moderated the event. [Video Below]
Peter McPherson, former administrator of USAID during the Reagan administration, and George Laudato, the administrator’s special assistant for the Middle East, presented on the historical context behind USAID in Egypt and the results of their efforts. McPherson pointed to three lessons that can be drawn from the recent report:
“Big payoffs” require long-term efforts; and
Economic support for a country can have a dramatic impact; but
The host country’s commitments and investments are still important.
McPherson also stressed that programs targeted to address specific issues are more effective than undirected cash grants. Laudato said USAID’s achievements were aided by the Egyptian government making health development a priority and increasing domestic monetary investment in the sector.
Motaz Zahran, political counselor for the Embassy of Egypt, noted that USAID efforts were “just one sector of a fruitful partnership” between the United States and Egypt that he hoped would continue. He said the success story outlined by the report was reflective of improvements in coordination and addressing specific goals.
Other panelists outlined the successes of USAID in Egypt as related to their own areas of expertise. Leslie B. Curtin, co-author of the review and an expert in demographics and health outcomes, noted the dramatic improvements in a range of health sectors, in particular the rise in contraceptive prevalence and immunization rates and decrease in both maternal and infant mortality rates.
Nahed Matta, MD, senior maternal and newborn health officer at USAID, focused on improvements to the quality of maternal health, which she said were made possibly through better technology and increased fact-gathering to identify the key factors regarding maternal health trends. Sameh El-Saharty, MD, senior health policy specialist at the World Bank and Health Legacy Review Committee member, credited the increased number of health professionals in Egypt, better information gathering on health systems, and restructured models of health insurance, as successful strategies.
Concluding the session, Amie Batson, deputy assistant administrator for Global Health at USAID, discussed the lessons that other development initiatives can draw from the legacy of USAID efforts in Egypt. She highlighted the importance of country ownership, in which the developing country engages with other institutions and religious and political leaders at both national and local levels, and of policies that fund routine monitoring and evaluation. She also outlined the possibilities of innovation and south-to-south sharing on the local and international scale, referencing inroads made by two recent initiatives: the “MAMA” mobile device program, launched by Secretary Clinton in May 2011 to assist with disseminating maternal health information, and the Saving Lives at Birth initiative, launched by USAID in partnership with several other organizations in March 2011.
Laura Rostad is an intern for the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.